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Title: On Liberty
Author: Mill, John Stuart, 1806-1873
Language: English
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On Liberty.

By John Stuart Mill.

With an Introduction by W. L. Courtney, LL.D.

The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd.
London and Felling-on-Tyne
New York and Melbourne

_To the beloved and deplored memory of her who was the inspirer, and in
part the author, of all that is best in my writings--the friend and wife
whose exalted sense of truth and right was my strongest incitement, and
whose approbation was my chief reward--I dedicate this volume. Like all
that I have written for many years, it belongs as much to her as to me;
but the work as it stands has had, in a very insufficient degree, the
inestimable advantage of her revision; some of the most important
portions having been reserved for a more careful re-examination, which
they are now never destined to receive. Were I but capable of
interpreting to the world one-half the great thoughts and noble feelings
which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater
benefit to it than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can
write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivalled wisdom._



John Stuart Mill was born on 20th May 1806. He was a delicate child, and
the extraordinary education designed by his father was not calculated to
develop and improve his physical powers. "I never was a boy," he says;
"never played cricket." His exercise was taken in the form of walks with
his father, during which the elder Mill lectured his son and examined
him on his work. It is idle to speculate on the possible results of a
different treatment. Mill remained delicate throughout his life, but was
endowed with that intense mental energy which is so often combined with
physical weakness. His youth was sacrificed to an idea; he was designed
by his father to carry on his work; the individuality of the boy was
unimportant. A visit to the south of France at the age of fourteen, in
company with the family of General Sir Samuel Bentham, was not without
its influence. It was a glimpse of another atmosphere, though the
studious habits of his home life were maintained. Moreover, he derived
from it his interest in foreign politics, which remained one of his
characteristics to the end of his life. In 1823 he was appointed junior
clerk in the Examiners' Office at the India House.

Mill's first essays were written in the _Traveller_ about a year before
he entered the India House. From that time forward his literary work was
uninterrupted save by attacks of illness. His industry was stupendous.
He wrote articles on an infinite variety of subjects, political,
metaphysical, philosophic, religious, poetical. He discovered Tennyson
for his generation, he influenced the writing of Carlyle's _French
Revolution_ as well as its success. And all the while he was engaged in
studying and preparing for his more ambitious works, while he rose step
by step at the India Office. His _Essays on Unsettled Questions in
Political Economy_ were written in 1831, although they did not appear
until thirteen years later. His _System of Logic_, the design of which
was even then fashioning itself in his brain, took thirteen years to
complete, and was actually published before the _Political Economy_. In
1844 appeared the article on Michelet, which its author anticipated
would cause some discussion, but which did not create the sensation he
expected. Next year there were the "Claims of Labour" and "Guizot," and
in 1847 his articles on Irish affairs in the _Morning Chronicle_. These
years were very much influenced by his friendship and correspondence
with Comte, a curious comradeship between men of such different
temperament. In 1848 Mill published his _Political Economy_, to which he
had given his serious study since the completion of his _Logic_. His
articles and reviews, though they involved a good deal of work--as, for
instance, the re-perusal of the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ in the
original before reviewing Grote's _Greece_--were recreation to the
student. The year 1856 saw him head of the Examiners' Office in the
India House, and another two years brought the end of his official work,
owing to the transfer of India to the Crown. In the same year his wife
died. _Liberty_ was published shortly after, as well as the _Thoughts on
Parliamentary Reform_, and no year passed without Mill making important
contributions on the political, philosophical, and ethical questions of
the day.

Seven years after the death of his wife, Mill was invited to contest
Westminster. His feeling on the conduct of elections made him refuse to
take any personal action in the matter, and he gave the frankest
expression to his political views, but nevertheless he was elected by a
large majority. He was not a conventional success in the House; as a
speaker he lacked magnetism. But his influence was widely felt. "For the
sake of the House of Commons at large," said Mr. Gladstone, "I rejoiced
in his advent and deplored his disappearance. He did us all good." After
only three years in Parliament, he was defeated at the next General
Election by Mr. W. H. Smith. He retired to Avignon, to the pleasant
little house where the happiest years of his life had been spent in the
companionship of his wife, and continued his disinterested labours. He
completed his edition of his father's _Analysis of the Mind_, and also
produced, in addition to less important work, _The Subjection of Women_,
in which he had the active co-operation of his step-daughter. A book on
Socialism was under consideration, but, like an earlier study of
Sociology, it never was written. He died in 1873, his last years being
spent peacefully in the pleasant society of his step-daughter, from
whose tender care and earnest intellectual sympathy he caught maybe a
far-off reflection of the light which had irradiated his spiritual life.


The circumstances under which John Stuart Mill wrote his _Liberty_ are
largely connected with the influence which Mrs. Taylor wielded over his
career. The dedication is well known. It contains the most extraordinary
panegyric on a woman that any philosopher has ever penned. "Were I but
capable of interpreting to the world one-half the great thoughts and
noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of
a greater benefit to it than is ever likely to arise from anything that
I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivalled
wisdom." It is easy for the ordinary worldly cynicism to curl a
sceptical lip over sentences like these. There may be exaggeration of
sentiment, the necessary and inevitable reaction of a man who was
trained according to the "dry light" of so unimpressionable a man as
James Mill, the father; but the passage quoted is not the only one in
which John Stuart Mill proclaims his unhesitating belief in the
intellectual influence of his wife. The treatise on _Liberty_ was
written especially under her authority and encouragement, but there are
many earlier references to the power which she exercised over his mind.
Mill was introduced to her as early as 1831, at a dinner-party at Mr.
Taylor's house, where were present, amongst others, Roebuck, W. J. Fox,
and Miss Harriet Martineau. The acquaintance rapidly ripened into
intimacy and the intimacy into friendship, and Mill was never weary of
expatiating on all the advantages of so singular a relationship. In some
of the presentation copies of his work on _Political Economy_, he wrote
the following dedication:--"To Mrs. John Taylor, who, of all persons
known to the author, is the most highly qualified either to originate or
to appreciate speculation on social advancement, this work is with the
highest respect and esteem dedicated." An article on the enfranchisement
of women was made the occasion for another encomium. We shall hardly be
wrong in attributing a much later book, _The Subjection of Women_,
published in 1869, to the influence wielded by Mrs. Taylor. Finally, the
pages of the _Autobiography_ ring with the dithyrambic praise of his
"almost infallible counsellor."

The facts of this remarkable intimacy can easily be stated. The
deductions are more difficult. There is no question that Mill's
infatuation was the cause of considerable trouble to his acquaintances
and friends. His father openly taxed him with being in love with another
man's wife. Roebuck, Mrs. Grote, Mrs. Austin, Miss Harriet Martineau
were amongst those who suffered because they made some allusion to a
forbidden subject. Mrs. Taylor lived with her daughter in a lodging in
the country; but in 1851 her husband died, and then Mill made her his
wife. Opinions were widely divergent as to her merits; but every one
agreed that up to the time of her death, in 1858, Mill was wholly lost
to his friends. George Mill, one of Mill's younger brothers, gave it as
his opinion that she was a clever and remarkable woman, but "nothing
like what John took her to be." Carlyle, in his reminiscences, described
her with ambiguous epithets. She was "vivid," "iridescent," "pale and
passionate and sad-looking, a living-romance heroine of the royalist
volition and questionable destiny." It is not possible to make much of a
judgment like this, but we get on more certain ground when we discover
that Mrs. Carlyle said on one occasion that "she is thought to be
dangerous," and that Carlyle added that she was worse than dangerous,
she was patronising. The occasion when Mill and his wife were brought
into close contact with the Carlyles is well known. The manuscript of
the first volume of the _French Revolution_ had been lent to Mill, and
was accidentally burnt by Mrs. Mill's servant. Mill and his wife drove
up to Carlyle's door, the wife speechless, the husband so full of
conversation that he detained Carlyle with desperate attempts at
loquacity for two hours. But Dr. Garnett tells us, in his _Life of
Carlyle_, that Mill made a substantial reparation for the calamity for
which he was responsible by inducing the aggrieved author to accept half
of the £200 which he offered. Mrs. Mill, as I have said, died in 1858,
after seven years of happy companionship with her husband, and was
buried at Avignon. The inscription which Mill wrote for her grave is too
characteristic to be omitted:--"Her great and loving heart, her noble
soul, her clear, powerful, original, and comprehensive intellect, made
her the guide and support, the instructor in wisdom and the example in
goodness, as she was the sole earthly delight of those who had the
happiness to belong to her. As earnest for all public good as she was
generous and devoted to all who surrounded her, her influence has been
felt in many of the greatest improvements of the age, and will be in
those still to come. Were there even a few hearts and intellects like
hers, this earth would already become the hoped-for Heaven." These lines
prove the intensity of Mill's feeling, which is not afraid of abundant
verbiage; but they also prove that he could not imagine what the effect
would be on others, and, as Grote said, only Mill's reputation could
survive these and similar displays.

Every one will judge for himself of this romantic episode in Mill's
career, according to such experience as he may possess of the
philosophic mind and of the value of these curious but not infrequent
relationships. It may have been a piece of infatuation, or, if we prefer
to say so, it may have been the most gracious and the most human page in
Mill's career. Mrs. Mill may have flattered her husband's vanity by
echoing his opinions, or she may have indeed been an Egeria, full of
inspiration and intellectual helpfulness. What usually happens in these
cases,--although the philosopher himself, through his belief in the
equality of the sexes, was debarred from thinking so,--is the extremely
valuable action and reaction of two different classes and orders of
mind. To any one whose thoughts have been occupied with the sphere of
abstract speculation, the lively and vivid presentment of concrete fact
comes as a delightful and agreeable shock. The instinct of the woman
often enables her not only to apprehend but to illustrate a truth for
which she would be totally unable to give the adequate philosophic
reasoning. On the other hand, the man, with the more careful logical
methods and the slow processes of formal reasoning, is apt to suppose
that the happy intuition which leaps to the conclusion is really based
on the intellectual processes of which he is conscious in his own case.
Thus both parties to the happy contract are equally pleased. The
abstract truth gets the concrete illustration; the concrete illustration
finds its proper foundation in a series of abstract inquiries. Perhaps
Carlyle's epithets of "iridescent" and "vivid" refer incidentally to
Mrs. Mill's quick perceptiveness, and thus throw a useful light on the
mutual advantages of the common work of husband and wife. But it savours
almost of impertinence even to attempt to lift the veil on a mystery
like this. It is enough to say, perhaps, that however much we may
deplore the exaggeration of Mill's references to his wife, we recognise
that, for whatever reason, the pair lived an ideally happy life.

It still, however, remains to estimate the extent to which Mrs. Taylor,
both before and after her marriage with Mill, made actual contributions
to his thoughts and his public work. Here I may be perhaps permitted to
avail myself of what I have already written in a previous work.[1] Mill
gives us abundant help in this matter in the _Autobiography_. When first
he knew her, his thoughts were turning to the subject of Logic. But his
published work on the subject owed nothing to her, he tells us, in its
doctrines. It was Mill's custom to write the whole of a book so as to
get his general scheme complete, and then laboriously to re-write it in
order to perfect the phrases and the composition. Doubtless Mrs. Taylor
was of considerable help to him as a critic of style. But to be a critic
of doctrine she was hardly qualified. Mill has made some clear
admissions on this point. "The only actual revolution which has ever
taken place in my modes of thinking was already complete,"[2] he says,
before her influence became paramount. There is a curiously humble
estimate of his own powers (to which Dr. Bain has called attention),
which reads at first sight as if it contradicted this. "During the
greater part of my literary life I have performed the office in relation
to her, which, from a rather early period, I had considered as the most
useful part that I was qualified to take in the domain of thought, that
of an interpreter of original thinkers, and mediator between them and
the public." So far it would seem that Mill had sat at the feet of his
oracle; but observe the highly remarkable exception which is made in the
following sentence:--"For I had always a humble opinion of my own powers
as an original thinker, _except in abstract science (logic, metaphysics,
and the theoretic principles of political economy and politics.)_"[3] If
Mill then was an original thinker in logic, metaphysics, and the science
of economy and politics, it is clear that he had not learnt these from
her lips. And to most men logic and metaphysics may be safely taken as
forming a domain in which originality of thought, if it can be honestly
professed, is a sufficient title of distinction.

Mrs. Taylor's assistance in the _Political Economy_ is confined to
certain definite points. The purely scientific part was, we are assured,
not learnt from her. "But it was chiefly her influence which gave to the
book that general tone by which it is distinguished from all previous
expositions of political economy that had any pretensions to be
scientific, and which has made it so useful in conciliating minds which
those previous expositions had repelled. This tone consisted chiefly in
making the proper distinction between the laws of the production of
wealth, which are real laws of Nature, dependent on the properties of
objects, and the modes of its distribution, which, subject to certain
conditions, depend on human will.... _I had indeed partially learnt this
view of things from the thoughts awakened in me by the speculations of
St. Simonians_; but it was made a living principle, pervading and
animating the book, by my wife's promptings."[4] The part which is
italicised is noticeable. Here, as elsewhere, Mill thinks out the matter
by himself; the concrete form of the thoughts is suggested or prompted
by the wife. Apart from this "general tone," Mill tells us that there
was a specific contribution. "The chapter which has had a greater
influence on opinion than all the rest, that on the Probable Future of
the Labouring Classes, is entirely due to her. In the first draft of the
book that chapter did not exist. She pointed out the need of such a
chapter, and the extreme imperfection of the book without it; she was
the cause of my writing it." From this it would appear that she gave
Mill that tendency to Socialism which, while it lends a progressive
spirit to his speculations on politics, at the same time does not
manifestly accord with his earlier advocacy of peasant proprietorships.
Nor, again, is it, on the face of it, consistent with those doctrines of
individual liberty which, aided by the intellectual companionship of his
wife, he propounded in a later work. The ideal of individual freedom is
not the ideal of Socialism, just as that invocation of governmental aid
to which the Socialist resorts is not consistent with the theory of
_laisser-faire_. Yet _Liberty_ was planned by Mill and his wife in
concert. Perhaps a slight visionariness of speculation was no less the
attribute of Mrs. Mill than an absence of rigid logical principles. Be
this as it may, she undoubtedly checked the half-recognised leanings of
her husband in the direction of Coleridge and Carlyle. Whether this was
an instance of her steadying influence,[5] or whether it added one more
unassimilated element to Mill's diverse intellectual sustenance, may be
wisely left an open question. We cannot, however, be wrong in
attributing to her the parentage of one book of Mill, _The Subjection of
Women_. It is true that Mill had before learnt that men and women ought
to be equal in legal, political, social, and domestic relations. This
was a point on which he had already fallen foul of his father's essay on
_Government_. But Mrs. Taylor had actually written on this very point,
and the warmth and fervour of Mill's denunciations of women's servitude
were unmistakably caught from his wife's view of the practical
disabilities entailed by the feminine position.


_Liberty_ was published in 1859, when the nineteenth century was half
over, but in its general spirit and in some of its special tendencies
the little tract belongs rather to the standpoint of the eighteenth
century than to that which saw its birth. In many of his speculations
John Stuart Mill forms a sort of connecting link between the doctrines
of the earlier English empirical school and those which we associate
with the name of Mr. Herbert Spencer. In his _Logic_, for instance, he
represents an advance on the theories of Hume, and yet does not see how
profoundly the victories of Science modify the conclusions of the
earlier thinker. Similarly, in his _Political Economy_, he desires to
improve and to enlarge upon Ricardo, and yet does not advance so far as
the modifications of political economy by Sociology, indicated by some
later--and especially German--speculations on the subject. In the tract
on _Liberty_, Mill is advocating the rights of the individual as against
Society at the very opening of an era that was rapidly coming to the
conclusion that the individual had no absolute rights against Society.
The eighteenth century view is that individuals existed first, each with
their own special claims and responsibilities; that they deliberately
formed a Social State, either by a contract or otherwise; and that then
finally they limited their own action out of regard for the interests of
the social organism thus arbitrarily produced. This is hardly the view
of the nineteenth century. It is possible that logically the individual
is prior to the State; historically and in the order of Nature, the
State is prior to the individual. In other words, such rights as every
single personality possesses in a modern world do not belong to him by
an original ordinance of Nature, but are slowly acquired in the growth
and development of the social state. It is not the truth that individual
liberties were forfeited by some deliberate act when men made themselves
into a Commonwealth. It is more true to say, as Aristotle said long ago,
that man is naturally a political animal, that he lived under strict
social laws as a mere item, almost a nonentity, as compared with the
Order, Society, or Community to which he belonged, and that such
privileges as he subsequently acquired have been obtained in virtue of
his growing importance as a member of a growing organisation. But if
this is even approximately true, it seriously restricts that liberty of
the individual for which Mill pleads. The individual has no chance,
because he has no rights, against the social organism. Society can
punish him for acts or even opinions which are anti-social in character.
His virtue lies in recognising the intimate communion with his fellows.
His sphere of activity is bounded by the common interest. Just as it is
an absurd and exploded theory that all men are originally equal, so it
is an ancient and false doctrine to protest that a man has an individual
liberty to live and think as he chooses in any spirit of antagonism to
that larger body of which he forms an insignificant part.

Nowadays this view of Society and of its development, which we largely
owe to the _Philosophie Positive_ of M. Auguste Comte, is so familiar
and possibly so damaging to the individual initiative, that it becomes
necessary to advance and proclaim the truth which resides in an opposite
theory. All progress, as we are aware, depends on the joint process of
integration and differentiation; synthesis, analysis, and then a larger
synthesis seem to form the law of development. If it ever comes to pass
that Society is tyrannical in its restrictions of the individual, if, as
for instance in some forms of Socialism, based on deceptive analogies of
Nature's dealings, the type is everything and the individual nothing, it
must be confidently urged in answer that the fuller life of the future
depends on the manifold activities, even though they may be
antagonistic, of the individual. In England, at all events, we know that
government in all its different forms, whether as King, or as a caste
of nobles, or as an oligarchical plutocracy, or even as trades unions,
is so dwarfing in its action that, for the sake of the future, the
individual must revolt. Just as our former point of view limited the
value of Mill's treatise on _Liberty_, so these considerations tend to
show its eternal importance. The omnipotence of Society means a dead
level of uniformity. The claim of the individual to be heard, to say
what he likes, to do what he likes, to live as he likes, is absolutely
necessary, not only for the variety of elements without which life is
poor, but also for the hope of a future age. So long as individual
initiative and effort are recognised as a vital element in English
history, so long will Mill's _Liberty_, which he confesses was based on
a suggestion derived from Von Humboldt, remain as an indispensable
contribution to the speculations, and also to the health and sanity, of
the world.

What his wife really was to Mill, we shall, perhaps, never know. But
that she was an actual and vivid force, which roused the latent
enthusiasm of his nature, we have abundant evidence. And when she died
at Avignon, though his friends may have regained an almost estranged
companionship, Mill was, personally, the poorer. Into the sorrow of that
bereavement we cannot enter: we have no right or power to draw the veil.
It is enough to quote the simple words, so eloquent of an unspoken
grief--"I can say nothing which could describe, even in the faintest
manner, what that loss was and is. But because I know that she would
have wished it, I endeavour to make the best of what life I have left,
and to work for her purposes with such diminished strength as can be
derived from thoughts of her, and communion with her memory."


LONDON, _July 5th, 1901_.


[1] _Life of John Stuart Mill_, chapter vi. (Walter Scott.)

[2] _Autobiography_, p. 190.

[3] _Ibid._, p. 242.

[4] _Autobiography_, pp. 246, 247.

[5] Cf. an instructive page in the _Autobiography_, p. 252.


INTRODUCTORY                                   1




OF WELL-BEING                                103


OVER THE INDIVIDUAL                          140


APPLICATIONS                                 177

The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument
unfolded in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and
essential importance of human development in its richest
diversity.--WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT: _Sphere and Duties of




The subject of this Essay is not the so-called Liberty of the Will, so
unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of Philosophical
Necessity; but Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the
power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the
individual. A question seldom stated, and hardly ever discussed, in
general terms, but which profoundly influences the practical
controversies of the age by its latent presence, and is likely soon to
make itself recognised as the vital question of the future. It is so far
from being new, that in a certain sense, it has divided mankind, almost
from the remotest ages; but in the stage of progress into which the more
civilised portions of the species have now entered, it presents itself
under new conditions, and requires a different and more fundamental

The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous
feature in the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar,
particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England. But in old times this
contest was between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the
government. By liberty, was meant protection against the tyranny of the
political rulers. The rulers were conceived (except in some of the
popular governments of Greece) as in a necessarily antagonistic position
to the people whom they ruled. They consisted of a governing One, or a
governing tribe or caste, who derived their authority from inheritance
or conquest, who, at all events, did not hold it at the pleasure of the
governed, and whose supremacy men did not venture, perhaps did not
desire, to contest, whatever precautions might be taken against its
oppressive exercise. Their power was regarded as necessary, but also as
highly dangerous; as a weapon which they would attempt to use against
their subjects, no less than against external enemies. To prevent the
weaker members of the community from being preyed upon by innumerable
vultures, it was needful that there should be an animal of prey
stronger than the rest, commissioned to keep them down. But as the king
of the vultures would be no less bent upon preying on the flock than any
of the minor harpies, it was indispensable to be in a perpetual attitude
of defence against his beak and claws. The aim, therefore, of patriots,
was to set limits to the power which the ruler should be suffered to
exercise over the community; and this limitation was what they meant by
liberty. It was attempted in two ways. First, by obtaining a recognition
of certain immunities, called political liberties or rights, which it
was to be regarded as a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe, and
which if he did infringe, specific resistance, or general rebellion, was
held to be justifiable. A second, and generally a later expedient, was
the establishment of constitutional checks; by which the consent of the
community, or of a body of some sort, supposed to represent its
interests, was made a necessary condition to some of the more important
acts of the governing power. To the first of these modes of limitation,
the ruling power, in most European countries, was compelled, more or
less, to submit. It was not so with the second; and to attain this, or
when already in some degree possessed, to attain it more completely,
became everywhere the principal object of the lovers of liberty. And so
long as mankind were content to combat one enemy by another, and to be
ruled by a master, on condition of being guaranteed more or less
efficaciously against his tyranny, they did not carry their aspirations
beyond this point.

A time, however, came, in the progress of human affairs, when men ceased
to think it a necessity of nature that their governors should be an
independent power, opposed in interest to themselves. It appeared to
them much better that the various magistrates of the State should be
their tenants or delegates, revocable at their pleasure. In that way
alone, it seemed, could they have complete security that the powers of
government would never be abused to their disadvantage. By degrees, this
new demand for elective and temporary rulers became the prominent object
of the exertions of the popular party, wherever any such party existed;
and superseded, to a considerable extent, the previous efforts to limit
the power of rulers. As the struggle proceeded for making the ruling
power emanate from the periodical choice of the ruled, some persons
began to think that too much importance had been attached to the
limitation of the power itself. _That_ (it might seem) was a resource
against rulers whose interests were habitually opposed to those of the
people. What was now wanted was, that the rulers should be identified
with the people; that their interest and will should be the interest and
will of the nation. The nation did not need to be protected against its
own will. There was no fear of its tyrannising over itself. Let the
rulers be effectually responsible to it, promptly removable by it, and
it could afford to trust them with power of which it could itself
dictate the use to be made. Their power was but the nation's own power,
concentrated, and in a form convenient for exercise. This mode of
thought, or rather perhaps of feeling, was common among the last
generation of European liberalism, in the Continental section of which
it still apparently predominates. Those who admit any limit to what a
government may do, except in the case of such governments as they think
ought not to exist, stand out as brilliant exceptions among the
political thinkers of the Continent. A similar tone of sentiment might
by this time have been prevalent in our own country, if the
circumstances which for a time encouraged it, had continued unaltered.

But, in political and philosophical theories, as well as in persons,
success discloses faults and infirmities which failure might have
concealed from observation. The notion, that the people have no need to
limit their power over themselves, might seem axiomatic, when popular
government was a thing only dreamed about, or read of as having existed
at some distant period of the past. Neither was that notion necessarily
disturbed by such temporary aberrations as those of the French
Revolution, the worst of which were the work of a usurping few, and
which, in any case, belonged, not to the permanent working of popular
institutions, but to a sudden and convulsive outbreak against
monarchical and aristocratic despotism. In time, however, a democratic
republic came to occupy a large portion of the earth's surface, and made
itself felt as one of the most powerful members of the community of
nations; and elective and responsible government became subject to the
observations and criticisms which wait upon a great existing fact. It
was now perceived that such phrases as "self-government," and "the power
of the people over themselves," do not express the true state of the
case. The "people" who exercise the power are not always the same people
with those over whom it is exercised; and the "self-government" spoken
of is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the
rest. The will of the people, moreover, practically means, the will of
the most numerous or the most active _part_ of the people; the majority,
or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority: the
people, consequently, _may_ desire to oppress a part of their number;
and precautions are as much needed against this, as against any other
abuse of power. The limitation, therefore, of the power of government
over individuals, loses none of its importance when the holders of power
are regularly accountable to the community, that is, to the strongest
party therein. This view of things, recommending itself equally to the
intelligence of thinkers and to the inclination of those important
classes in European society to whose real or supposed interests
democracy is adverse, has had no difficulty in establishing itself; and
in political speculations "the tyranny of the majority" is now generally
included among the evils against which society requires to be on its

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is
still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of
the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when
society is itself the tyrant--society collectively, over the separate
individuals who compose it--its means of tyrannising are not restricted
to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries.
Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong
mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which
it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable
than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually
upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape,
penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the
soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the
magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the
tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of
society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas
and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to
fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any
individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to
fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the
legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual
independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against
encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs,
as protection against political despotism.

But though this proposition is not likely to be contested in general
terms, the practical question, where to place the limit--how to make the
fitting adjustment between individual independence and social
control--is a subject on which nearly everything remains to be done. All
that makes existence valuable to any one, depends on the enforcement of
restraints upon the actions of other people. Some rules of conduct,
therefore, must be imposed, by law in the first place, and by opinion on
many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law. What
these rules should be, is the principal question in human affairs; but
if we except a few of the most obvious cases, it is one of those which
least progress has been made in resolving. No two ages, and scarcely any
two countries, have decided it alike; and the decision of one age or
country is a wonder to another. Yet the people of any given age and
country no more suspect any difficulty in it, than if it were a subject
on which mankind had always been agreed. The rules which obtain among
themselves appear to them self-evident and self-justifying. This all but
universal illusion is one of the examples of the magical influence of
custom, which is not only, as the proverb says, a second nature, but is
continually mistaken for the first. The effect of custom, in preventing
any misgiving respecting the rules of conduct which mankind impose on
one another, is all the more complete because the subject is one on
which it is not generally considered necessary that reasons should be
given, either by one person to others, or by each to himself. People are
accustomed to believe, and have been encouraged in the belief by some
who aspire to the character of philosophers, that their feelings, on
subjects of this nature, are better than reasons, and render reasons
unnecessary. The practical principle which guides them to their opinions
on the regulation of human conduct, is the feeling in each person's mind
that everybody should be required to act as he, and those with whom he
sympathises, would like them to act. No one, indeed, acknowledges to
himself that his standard of judgment is his own liking; but an opinion
on a point of conduct, not supported by reasons, can only count as one
person's preference; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal
to a similar preference felt by other people, it is still only many
people's liking instead of one. To an ordinary man, however, his own
preference, thus supported, is not only a perfectly satisfactory
reason, but the only one he generally has for any of his notions of
morality, taste, or propriety, which are not expressly written in his
religious creed; and his chief guide in the interpretation even of that.
Men's opinions, accordingly, on what is laudable or blamable, are
affected by all the multifarious causes which influence their wishes in
regard to the conduct of others, and which are as numerous as those
which determine their wishes on any other subject. Sometimes their
reason--at other times their prejudices or superstitions: often their
social affections, not seldom their anti-social ones, their envy or
jealousy, their arrogance or contemptuousness: but most commonly, their
desires or fears for themselves--their legitimate or illegitimate
self-interest. 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 superiority. The morality between Spartans and Helots,
between planters and negroes, between princes and subjects, between
nobles and roturiers, between men and women, has been for the most part
the creation of these class interests and feelings: and the sentiments
thus generated, react in turn upon the moral feelings of the members of
the ascendant class, in their relations among themselves. Where, on the
other hand, a class, formerly ascendant, has lost its ascendancy, or
where its ascendancy is unpopular, the prevailing moral sentiments
frequently bear the impress of an impatient dislike of superiority.
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. Among so many baser influences, the general and obvious
interests of society have of course had a share, and a large one, in the
direction of the moral sentiments: less, however, as a matter of reason,
and on their own account, than as a consequence of the sympathies and
antipathies which grew out of them: and sympathies and antipathies which
had little or nothing to do with the interests of society, have made
themselves felt in the establishment of moralities with quite as great

The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of
it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules
laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or
opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in
thought and feeling have left this condition of things unassailed in
principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of
its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what
things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its
likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred
endeavouring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points
on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause
in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which
the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with
consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of
religious belief: a case instructive in many ways, and not least so as
forming a most striking instance of the fallibility of what is called
the moral sense: for the _odium theologicum_, in a sincere bigot, is one
of the most unequivocal cases of moral feeling. Those who first broke
the yoke of what called itself the Universal Church, were in general as
little willing to permit difference of religious opinion as that church
itself. But when the heat of the conflict was over, without giving a
complete victory to any party, and each church or sect was reduced to
limit its hopes to retaining possession of the ground it already
occupied; minorities, seeing that they had no chance of becoming
majorities, were under the necessity of pleading to those whom they
could not convert, for permission to differ. It is accordingly on this
battle-field, almost solely, that the rights of the individual against
society have been asserted on broad grounds of principle, and the claim
of society to exercise authority over dissentients, openly controverted.
The great writers to whom the world owes what religious liberty it
possesses, have mostly asserted freedom of conscience as an indefeasible
right, and denied absolutely that a human being is accountable to others
for his religious belief. Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in
whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly
anywhere been practically realised, except where religious indifference,
which dislikes to have its peace disturbed by theological quarrels, has
added its weight to the scale. In the minds of almost all religious
persons, even in the most tolerant countries, the duty of toleration is
admitted with tacit reserves. One person will bear with dissent in
matters of church government, but not of dogma; another can tolerate
everybody, short of a Papist or a Unitarian; another, every one who
believes in revealed religion; a few extend their charity a little
further, but stop at the belief in a God and in a future state. Wherever
the sentiment of the majority is still genuine and intense, it is found
to have abated little of its claim to be obeyed.

In England, from the peculiar circumstances of our political history,
though the yoke of opinion is perhaps heavier, that of law is lighter,
than in most other countries of Europe; and there is considerable
jealousy of direct interference, by the legislative or the executive
power, with private conduct; not so much from any just regard for the
independence of the individual, as from the still subsisting habit of
looking on the government as representing an opposite interest to the
public. The majority have not yet learnt to feel the power of the
government their power, or its opinions their opinions. When they do so,
individual liberty will probably be as much exposed to invasion from the
government, as it already is from public opinion. But, as yet, there is
a considerable amount of feeling ready to be called forth against any
attempt of the law to control individuals in things in which they have
not hitherto been accustomed to be controlled by it; and this with very
little discrimination as to whether the matter is, or is not, within the
legitimate sphere of legal control; insomuch that the feeling, highly
salutary on the whole, is perhaps quite as often misplaced as well
grounded in the particular instances of its application. There is, in
fact, no recognised principle by which the propriety or impropriety of
government interference is customarily tested. People decide according
to their personal preferences. 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

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 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.

It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to
apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are
not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the
law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a
state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected
against their own actions as well as against external injury. For the
same reason, we may leave out of consideration those backward states of
society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage. The
early difficulties in the way of spontaneous progress are so great, that
there is seldom any choice of means for overcoming them; and a ruler
full of the spirit of improvement is warranted in the use of any
expedients that will attain an end, perhaps otherwise unattainable.
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.
Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar
or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate as to find one. But as soon
as mankind have attained the capacity of being guided to their own
improvement by conviction or persuasion (a period long since reached in
all nations with whom we need here concern ourselves), compulsion,
either in the direct form or in that of pains and penalties for
non-compliance, is no longer admissible as a means to their own good,
and justifiable only for the security of others.

It is proper to state that I forego any advantage which could be derived
to my argument from the idea of abstract right, as a thing independent
of utility. I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical
questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the
permanent interests of man as a progressive being. Those interests, I
contend, authorise the subjection of individual spontaneity to external
control, only in respect to those actions of each, which concern the
interest of other people. If any one does an act hurtful to others,
there is a _primâ facie_ case for punishing him, by law, or, where legal
penalties are not safely applicable, by general disapprobation. 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. The latter case, it is true, requires a much
more cautious exercise of compulsion than the former. To make any one
answerable for doing evil to others, is the rule; to make him answerable
for not preventing evil, is, comparatively speaking, the exception. Yet
there are many cases clear enough and grave enough to justify that
exception. In all things which regard the external relations of the
individual, he is _de jure_ amenable to those whose interests are
concerned, and if need be, to society as their protector. There are
often good reasons for not holding him to the responsibility; but these
reasons must arise from the special expediencies of the case: either
because it is a kind of case in which he is on the whole likely to act
better, when left to his own discretion, than when controlled in any way
in which society have it in their power to control him; or because the
attempt to exercise control would produce other evils, greater than
those which it would prevent. When such reasons as these preclude the
enforcement of responsibility, the conscience of the agent himself
should step into the vacant judgment seat, and protect those interests
of others which have no external protection; judging himself all the
more rigidly, because the case does not admit of his being made
accountable to the judgment of his fellow-creatures.

But there is a sphere of action in which society, as distinguished from
the individual, has, if any, only an indirect interest; comprehending
all that portion of a person's life and conduct which affects only
himself, or if it also affects others, only with their free, voluntary,
and undeceived consent and participation. When I say only himself, I
mean directly, and in the first instance: for whatever affects himself,
may affect others _through_ himself; and the objection which may be
grounded on this contingency, will receive consideration in the sequel.
This, then, is the appropriate region of human liberty. It comprises,
first, the inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of
conscience, in the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and
feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects,
practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological. The liberty
of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a different
principle, since it belongs to that part of the conduct of an individual
which concerns other people; but, being almost of as much importance as
the liberty of thought itself, and resting in great part on the same
reasons, is practically inseparable from it. Secondly, the principle
requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life
to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such
consequences as may follow: without impediment from our
fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though
they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong. Thirdly, from
this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty, within the same
limits, of combination among individuals; freedom to unite, for any
purpose not involving harm to others: the persons combining being
supposed to be of full age, and not forced or deceived.

No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is
free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely
free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The only
freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our
own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or
impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his
own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater
gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves,
than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

Though this doctrine is anything but new, and, to some persons, may have
the air of a truism, there is no doctrine which stands more directly
opposed to the general tendency of existing opinion and practice.
Society has expended fully as much effort in the attempt (according to
its lights) to compel people to conform to its notions of personal, as
of social excellence. The ancient commonwealths thought themselves
entitled to practise, and the ancient philosophers countenanced, the
regulation of every part of private conduct by public authority, on the
ground that the State had a deep interest in the whole bodily and mental
discipline of every one of its citizens; a mode of thinking which may
have been admissible in small republics surrounded by powerful enemies,
in constant peril of being subverted by foreign attack or internal
commotion, and to which even a short interval of relaxed energy and
self-command might so easily be fatal, that they could not afford to
wait for the salutary permanent effects of freedom. In the modern world,
the greater size of political communities, and above all, the separation
between spiritual and temporal authority (which placed the direction of
men's consciences in other hands than those which controlled their
worldly affairs), prevented so great an interference by law in the
details of private life; but the engines of moral repression have been
wielded more strenuously against divergence from the reigning opinion in
self-regarding, than even in social matters; religion, the most powerful
of the elements which have entered into the formation of moral feeling,
having almost always been governed either by the ambition of a
hierarchy, seeking control over every department of human conduct, or by
the spirit of Puritanism. And some of those modern reformers who have
placed themselves in strongest opposition to the religions of the past,
have been noway behind either churches or sects in their assertion of
the right of spiritual domination: M. Comte, in particular, whose social
system, as unfolded in his _Traité de Politique Positive_, aims at
establishing (though by moral more than by legal appliances) a despotism
of society over the individual, surpassing anything contemplated in the
political ideal of the most rigid disciplinarian among the ancient

Apart from the peculiar tenets of individual thinkers, there is also in
the world at large an increasing inclination to stretch unduly the
powers of society over the individual, both by the force of opinion and
even by that of legislation: and as the tendency of all the changes
taking place in the world is to strengthen society, and diminish the
power of the individual, this encroachment is not one of the evils which
tend spontaneously to disappear, but, on the contrary, to grow more and
more formidable. The disposition of mankind, whether as rulers or as
fellow-citizens to impose their own opinions and inclinations as a rule
of conduct on others, is so energetically supported by some of the best
and by some of the worst feelings incident to human nature, that it is
hardly ever kept under restraint by anything but want of power; and as
the power is not declining, but growing, unless a strong barrier of
moral conviction can be raised against the mischief, we must expect, in
the present circumstances of the world, to see it increase.

It will be convenient for the argument, if, instead of at once entering
upon the general thesis, we confine ourselves in the first instance to a
single branch of it, on which the principle here stated is, if not
fully, yet to a certain point, recognised by the current opinions. This
one branch is the Liberty of Thought: from which it is impossible to
separate the cognate liberty of speaking and of writing. Although these
liberties, to some considerable amount, form part of the political
morality of all countries which profess religious toleration and free
institutions, the grounds, both philosophical and practical, on which
they rest, are perhaps not so familiar to the general mind, nor so
thoroughly appreciated by many even of the leaders of opinion, as might
have been expected. Those grounds, when rightly understood, are of much
wider application than to only one division of the subject, and a
thorough consideration of this part of the question will be found the
best introduction to the remainder. Those to whom nothing which I am
about to say will be new, may therefore, I hope, excuse me, if on a
subject which for now three centuries has been so often discussed, I
venture on one discussion more.



The time, it is to be hoped, is gone by, when any defence would be
necessary of the "liberty of the press" as one of the securities against
corrupt or tyrannical government. No argument, we may suppose, can now
be needed, against permitting a legislature or an executive, not
identified in interest with the people, to prescribe opinions to them,
and determine what doctrines or what arguments they shall be allowed to
hear. This aspect of the question, besides, has been so often and so
triumphantly enforced by preceding writers, that it need not be
specially insisted on in this place. Though the law of England, on the
subject of the press, is as servile to this day as it was in the time of
the Tudors, there is little danger of its being actually put in force
against political discussion, except during some temporary panic, when
fear of insurrection drives ministers and judges from their
propriety;[6] and, speaking generally, it is not, in constitutional
countries, to be apprehended that the government, whether completely
responsible to the people or not, will often attempt to control the
expression of opinion, except when in doing so it makes itself the organ
of the general intolerance of the public. Let us suppose, therefore,
that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never thinks
of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it
conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people to
exercise such coercion, either by themselves or by their government. The
power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no more title to
it than the worst. It is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in
accordance with public opinion, than when in or opposition to it. 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. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value
except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were
simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the
injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar
evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing
the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who
dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the
opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging
error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit,
the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its
collision with error.

It is necessary to consider separately these two hypotheses, each of
which has a distinct branch of the argument corresponding to it. We can
never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false
opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.

First: the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may
possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its
truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the
question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means
of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure
that it is false, is to assume that _their_ certainty is the same thing
as _absolute_ certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption
of infallibility. Its condemnation may be allowed to rest on this common
argument, not the worse for being common.

Unfortunately for the good sense of mankind, the fact of their
fallibility is far from carrying the weight in their practical judgment,
which is always allowed to it in theory; for while every one well knows
himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions
against their own fallibility, or admit the supposition that any
opinion, of which they feel very certain, may be one of the examples of
the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable. Absolute
princes, or others who are accustomed to unlimited deference, usually
feel this complete confidence in their own opinions on nearly all
subjects. People more happily situated, who sometimes hear their
opinions disputed, and are not wholly unused to be set right when they
are wrong, place the same unbounded reliance only on such of their
opinions as are shared by all who surround them, or to whom they
habitually defer: for in proportion to a man's want of confidence in his
own solitary judgment, does he usually repose, with implicit trust, on
the infallibility of "the world" in general. And the world, to each
individual, means the part of it with which he comes in contact; his
party, his sect, his church, his class of society: the man may be
called, by comparison, almost liberal and large-minded to whom it means
anything so comprehensive as his own country or his own age. Nor is his
faith in this collective authority at all shaken by his being aware that
other ages, countries, sects, churches, classes, and parties have
thought, and even now think, the exact reverse. He devolves upon his own
world the responsibility of being in the right against the dissentient
worlds of other people; and it never troubles him that mere accident has
decided which of these numerous worlds is the object of his reliance,
and that the same causes which make him a Churchman in London, would
have made him a Buddhist or a Confucian in Pekin. Yet it is as evident
in itself as any amount of argument can make it, that ages are no more
infallible than individuals; every age having held many opinions which
subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is as
certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected by future
ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present.

The objection likely to be made to this argument, would probably take
some such form as the following. There is no greater assumption of
infallibility in forbidding the propagation of error, than in any other
thing which is done by public authority on its own judgment and
responsibility. Judgment is given to men that they may use it. Because
it may be used erroneously, are men to be told that they ought not to
use it at all? To prohibit what they think pernicious, is not claiming
exemption from error, but fulfilling the duty incumbent on them,
although fallible, of acting on their conscientious conviction. If we
were never to act on our opinions, because those opinions may be wrong,
we should leave all our interests uncared for, and all our duties
unperformed. An objection which applies to all conduct, can be no valid
objection to any conduct in particular. It is the duty of governments,
and of individuals, to form the truest opinions they can; to form them
carefully, and never impose them upon others unless they are quite sure
of being right. But when they are sure (such reasoners may say), it is
not conscientiousness but cowardice to shrink from acting on their
opinions, and allow doctrines which they honestly think dangerous to the
welfare of mankind, either in this life or in another, to be scattered
abroad without restraint, because other people, in less enlightened
times, have persecuted opinions now believed to be true. Let us take
care, it may be said, not to make the same mistake: but governments and
nations have made mistakes in other things, which are not denied to be
fit subjects for the exercise of authority: they have laid on bad taxes,
made unjust wars. Ought we therefore to lay on no taxes, and, under
whatever provocation, make no wars? Men, and governments, must act to
the best of their ability. There is no such thing as absolute certainty,
but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life. We
may, and must, assume our opinion to be true for the guidance of our own
conduct: and it is assuming no more when we forbid bad men to pervert
society by the propagation of opinions which we regard as false and

I answer that it is assuming very much more. There is the greatest
difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every
opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its
truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty
of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which
justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no
other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance
of being right.

When we consider either the history of opinion, or the ordinary conduct
of human life, to what is it to be ascribed that the one and the other
are no worse than they are? Not certainly to the inherent force of the
human understanding; for, on any matter not self-evident, there are
ninety-nine persons totally incapable of judging of it, for one who is
capable; and the capacity of the hundredth person is only comparative;
for the majority of the eminent men of every past generation held many
opinions now known to be erroneous, and did or approved numerous things
which no one will now justify. Why is it, then, that there is on the
whole a preponderance among mankind of rational opinions and rational
conduct? If there really is this preponderance--which there must be,
unless human affairs are, and have always been, in an almost desperate
state--it is owing to a quality of the human mind, the source of
everything respectable in man either as an intellectual or as a moral
being, namely, that his errors are corrigible. He is capable of
rectifying his mistakes, by discussion and experience. Not by experience
alone. There must be discussion, to show how experience is to be
interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and
argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind,
must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own
story, without comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength
and value, then, of human judgment, depending on the one property, that
it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only
when the means of setting it right are kept constantly at hand. In the
case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how
has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his
opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all
that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just,
and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what
was fallacious. Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human
being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by
hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of
opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every
character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but
this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any
other manner. The steady habit of correcting and completing his own
opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt
and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable
foundation for a just reliance on it: for, being cognisant of all that
can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his
position against all gainsayers--knowing that he has sought for
objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them, and has shut out
no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter--he has a
right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or any
multitude, who have not gone through a similar process.

It is not too much to require that what the wisest of mankind, those who
are best entitled to trust their own judgment, find necessary to warrant
their relying on it, should be submitted to by that miscellaneous
collection of a few wise and many foolish individuals, called the
public. The most intolerant of churches, the Roman Catholic Church, even
at the canonisation of a saint, admits, and listens patiently to, a
"devil's advocate." The holiest of men, it appears, cannot be admitted
to posthumous honours, until all that the devil could say against him is
known and weighed. If even the Newtonian philosophy were not permitted
to be questioned, mankind could not feel as complete assurance of its
truth as they now do. The beliefs which we have most warrant for, have
no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to
prove them unfounded. If the challenge is not accepted, or is accepted
and the attempt fails, we are far enough from certainty still; but we
have done the best that the existing state of human reason admits of; we
have neglected nothing that could give the truth a chance of reaching
us: if the lists are kept open, we may hope that if there be a better
truth, it will be found when the human mind is capable of receiving it;
and in the meantime we may rely on having attained such approach to
truth, as is possible in our own day. This is the amount of certainty
attainable by a fallible being, and this the sole way of attaining it.

Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the arguments for
free discussion, but object to their being "pushed to an extreme;" not
seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are
not good for any case. Strange that they should imagine that they are
not assuming infallibility, when they acknowledge that there should be
free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be _doubtful_, but
think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to
be questioned because it is _so certain_, that is, because _they are
certain_ that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while
there is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is
not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with
us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other

In the present age--which has been described as "destitute of faith, but
terrified at scepticism"--in which people feel sure, not so much that
their opinions are true, as that they should not know what to do without
them--the claims of an opinion to be protected from public attack are
rested not so much on its truth, as on its importance to society. There
are, it is alleged, certain beliefs, so useful, not to say indispensable
to well-being, that it is as much the duty of governments to uphold
those beliefs, as to protect any other of the interests of society. In a
case of such necessity, and so directly in the line of their duty,
something less than infallibility may, it is maintained, warrant, and
even bind, governments, to act on their own opinion, confirmed by the
general opinion of mankind. It is also often argued, and still oftener
thought, that none but bad men would desire to weaken these salutary
beliefs; and there can be nothing wrong, it is thought, in restraining
bad men, and prohibiting what only such men would wish to practise.
This mode of thinking makes the justification of restraints on
discussion not a question of the truth of doctrines, but of their
usefulness; and flatters itself by that means to escape the
responsibility of claiming to be an infallible judge of opinions. But
those who thus satisfy themselves, do not perceive that the assumption
of infallibility is merely shifted from one point to another. The
usefulness of an opinion is itself matter of opinion: as disputable, as
open to discussion, and requiring discussion as much, as the opinion
itself. There is the same need of an infallible judge of opinions to
decide an opinion to be noxious, as to decide it to be false, unless the
opinion condemned has full opportunity of defending itself. And it will
not do to say that the heretic may be allowed to maintain the utility or
harmlessness of his opinion, though forbidden to maintain its truth. The
truth of an opinion is part of its utility. If we would know whether or
not it is desirable that a proposition should be believed, is it
possible to exclude the consideration of whether or not it is true? In
the opinion, not of bad men, but of the best men, no belief which is
contrary to truth can be really useful: and can you prevent such men
from urging that plea, when they are charged with culpability for
denying some doctrine which they are told is useful, but which they
believe to be false? Those who are on the side of received opinions,
never fail to take all possible advantage of this plea; you do not find
_them_ handling the question of utility as if it could be completely
abstracted from that of truth: on the contrary, it is, above all,
because their doctrine is "the truth," that the knowledge or the belief
of it is held to be so indispensable. There can be no fair discussion of
the question of usefulness, when an argument so vital may be employed on
one side, but not on the other. And in point of fact, when law or public
feeling do not permit the truth of an opinion to be disputed, they are
just as little tolerant of a denial of its usefulness. The utmost they
allow is an extenuation of its absolute necessity, or of the positive
guilt of rejecting it.

In order more fully to illustrate the mischief of denying a hearing to
opinions because we, in our own judgment, have condemned them, it will
be desirable to fix down the discussion to a concrete case; and I
choose, by preference, the cases which are least favourable to me--in
which the argument against freedom of opinion, both on the score of
truth and on that of utility, is considered the strongest. Let the
opinions impugned be the belief in a God and in a future state, or any
of the commonly received doctrines of morality. To fight the battle on
such ground, gives a great advantage to an unfair antagonist; since he
will be sure to say (and many who have no desire to be unfair will say
it internally), Are these the doctrines which you do not deem
sufficiently certain to be taken under the protection of law? Is the
belief in a God one of the opinions, to feel sure of which, you hold to
be assuming infallibility? But I must be permitted to observe, that it
is not the feeling sure of a doctrine (be it what it may) which I call
an assumption of infallibility. It is the undertaking to decide that
question _for others_, without allowing them to hear what can be said on
the contrary side. And I denounce and reprobate this pretension not the
less, if put forth on the side of my most solemn convictions. However
positive any one's persuasion may be, not only of the falsity, but of
the pernicious consequences--not only of the pernicious consequences,
but (to adopt expressions which I altogether condemn) the immorality and
impiety of an opinion; yet if, in pursuance of that private judgment,
though backed by the public judgment of his country or his
contemporaries, he prevents the opinion from being heard in its defence,
he assumes infallibility. And so far from the assumption being less
objectionable or less dangerous because the opinion is called immoral or
impious, this is the case of all others in which it is most fatal. These
are exactly the occasions on which the men of one generation commit
those dreadful mistakes, which excite the astonishment and horror of
posterity. It is among such that we find the instances memorable in
history, when the arm of the law has been employed to root out the best
men and the noblest doctrines; with deplorable success as to the men,
though some of the doctrines have survived to be (as if in mockery)
invoked, in defence of similar conduct towards those who dissent from
_them_, or from their received interpretation.

Mankind can hardly be too often reminded that there was once a man named
Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of
his time, there took place a memorable collision. Born in an age and
country abounding in individual greatness, this man has been handed down
to us by those who best knew both him and the age, as the most virtuous
man in it; while _we_ know him as the head and prototype of all
subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the lofty
inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, "_i
maëstri di color che sanno_," the two headsprings of ethical as of all
other philosophy. This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers
who have since lived--whose fame, still growing after more than two
thousand years, all but outweighs the whole remainder of the names which
make his native city illustrious--was put to death by his countrymen,
after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality. Impiety, in
denying the gods recognised by the State; indeed his accuser asserted
(see the "Apologia") that he believed in no gods at all. Immorality, in
being, by his doctrines and instructions, a "corruptor of youth." Of
these charges the tribunal, there is every ground for believing,
honestly found him guilty, and condemned the man who probably of all
then born had deserved best of mankind, to be put to death as a

To pass from this to the only other instance of judicial iniquity, the
mention of which, after the condemnation of Socrates, would not be an
anticlimax: the event which took place on Calvary rather more than
eighteen hundred years ago. The man who left on the memory of those who
witnessed his life and conversation, such an impression of his moral
grandeur, that eighteen subsequent centuries have done homage to him as
the Almighty in person, was ignominiously put to death, as what? As a
blasphemer. Men did not merely mistake their benefactor; they mistook
him for the exact contrary of what he was, and treated him as that
prodigy of impiety, which they themselves are now held to be, for their
treatment of him. The feelings with which mankind now regard these
lamentable transactions, especially the later of the two, render them
extremely unjust in their judgment of the unhappy actors. These were, to
all appearance, not bad men--not worse than men commonly are, but rather
the contrary; men who possessed in a full, or somewhat more than a full
measure, the religious, moral, and patriotic feelings of their time and
people: the very kind of men who, in all times, our own included, have
every chance of passing through life blameless and respected. The
high-priest who rent his garments when the words were pronounced, which,
according to all the ideas of his country, constituted the blackest
guilt, was in all probability quite as sincere in his horror and
indignation, as the generality of respectable and pious men now are in
the religious and moral sentiments they profess; and most of those who
now shudder at his conduct, if they had lived in his time, and been born
Jews, would have acted precisely as he did. Orthodox Christians who are
tempted to think that those who stoned to death the first martyrs must
have been worse men than they themselves are, ought to remember that one
of those persecutors was Saint Paul.

Let us add one more example, the most striking of all, if the
impressiveness of an error is measured by the wisdom and virtue of him
who falls into it. If ever any one, possessed of power, had grounds for
thinking himself the best and most enlightened among his cotemporaries,
it was the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Absolute monarch of the whole
civilised world, he preserved through life not only the most unblemished
justice, but what was less to be expected from his Stoical breeding, the
tenderest heart. The few failings which are attributed to him, were all
on the side of indulgence: while his writings, the highest ethical
product of the ancient mind, differ scarcely perceptibly, if they differ
at all, from the most characteristic teachings of Christ. This man, a
better Christian in all but the dogmatic sense of the word, than almost
any of the ostensibly Christian sovereigns who have since reigned,
persecuted Christianity. Placed at the summit of all the previous
attainments of humanity, with an open, unfettered intellect, and a
character which led him of himself to embody in his moral writings the
Christian ideal, he yet failed to see that Christianity was to be a good
and not an evil to the world, with his duties to which he was so deeply
penetrated. Existing society he knew to be in a deplorable state. But
such as it was, he saw, or thought he saw, that it was held together,
and prevented from being worse, by belief and reverence of the received
divinities. As a ruler of mankind, he deemed it his duty not to suffer
society to fall in pieces; and saw not how, if its existing ties were
removed, any others could be formed which could again knit it together.
The new religion openly aimed at dissolving these ties: unless,
therefore, it was his duty to adopt that religion, it seemed to be his
duty to put it down. Inasmuch then as the theology of Christianity did
not appear to him true or of divine origin; inasmuch as this strange
history of a crucified God was not credible to him, and a system which
purported to rest entirely upon a foundation to him so wholly
unbelievable, could not be foreseen by him to be that renovating agency
which, after all abatements, it has in fact proved to be; the gentlest
and most amiable of philosophers and rulers, under a solemn sense of
duty, authorised the persecution of Christianity. To my mind this is one
of the most tragical facts in all history. It is a bitter thought, how
different a thing the Christianity of the world might have been, if the
Christian faith had been adopted as the religion of the empire under the
auspices of Marcus Aurelius instead of those of Constantine. But it
would be equally unjust to him and false to truth, to deny, that no one
plea which can be urged for punishing anti-Christian teaching, was
wanting to Marcus Aurelius for punishing, as he did, the propagation of
Christianity. No Christian more firmly believes that Atheism is false,
and tends to the dissolution of society, than Marcus Aurelius believed
the same things of Christianity; he who, of all men then living, might
have been thought the most capable of appreciating it. Unless any one
who approves of punishment for the promulgation of opinions, flatters
himself that he is a wiser and better man than Marcus Aurelius--more
deeply versed in the wisdom of his time, more elevated in his intellect
above it--more earnest in his search for truth, or more single-minded in
his devotion to it when found;--let him abstain from that assumption of
the joint infallibility of himself and the multitude, which the great
Antoninus made with so unfortunate a result.

Aware of the impossibility of defending the use of punishment for
restraining irreligious opinions, by any argument which will not justify
Marcus Antoninus, the enemies of religious freedom, when hard pressed,
occasionally accept this consequence, and say, with Dr. Johnson, that
the persecutors of Christianity were in the right; that persecution is
an ordeal through which truth ought to pass, and always passes
successfully, legal penalties being, in the end, powerless against
truth, though sometimes beneficially effective against mischievous
errors. This is a form of the argument for religious intolerance,
sufficiently remarkable not to be passed without notice.

A theory which maintains that truth may justifiably be persecuted
because persecution cannot possibly do it any harm, cannot be charged
with being intentionally hostile to the reception of new truths; but we
cannot commend the generosity of its dealing with the persons to whom
mankind are indebted for them. To discover to the world something which
deeply concerns it, and of which it was previously ignorant; to prove to
it that it had been mistaken on some vital point of temporal or
spiritual interest, is as important a service as a human being can
render to his fellow-creatures, and in certain cases, as in those of the
early Christians and of the Reformers, those who think with Dr. Johnson
believe it to have been the most precious gift which could be bestowed
on mankind. That the authors of such splendid benefits should be
requited by martyrdom; that their reward should be to be dealt with as
the vilest of criminals, is not, upon this theory, a deplorable error
and misfortune, for which humanity should mourn in sackcloth and ashes,
but the normal and justifiable state of things. The propounder of a new
truth, according to this doctrine, should stand, as stood, in the
legislation of the Locrians, the proposer of a new law, with a halter
round his neck, to be instantly tightened if the public assembly did
not, on hearing his reasons, then and there adopt his proposition.
People who defend this mode of treating benefactors, cannot be supposed
to set much value on the benefit; and I believe this view of the subject
is mostly confined to the sort of persons who think that new truths may
have been desirable once, but that we have had enough of them now.

But, indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution, is
one of those pleasant 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, 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.

It will be said, that we do not now put to death the introducers of new
opinions: we are not like our fathers who slew the prophets, we even
build sepulchres to them. It is true we no longer put heretics to death;
and the amount of penal infliction which modern feeling would probably
tolerate, even against the most obnoxious opinions, is not sufficient to
extirpate them. But let us not flatter ourselves that we are yet free
from the stain even of legal persecution. Penalties for opinion, or at
least for its expression, still exist by law; and their enforcement is
not, even in these times, so unexampled as to make it at all incredible
that they may some day be revived in full force. In the year 1857, at
the summer assizes of the county of Cornwall, an unfortunate man,[7]
said to be of unexceptionable conduct in all relations of life, was
sentenced to twenty-one months' imprisonment, for uttering, and writing
on a gate, some offensive words concerning Christianity. Within a month
of the same time, at the Old Bailey, two persons, on two separate
occasions,[8] were rejected as jurymen, and one of them grossly insulted
by the judge and by one of the counsel, because they honestly declared
that they had no theological belief; and a third, a foreigner,[9] for
the same reason, was denied justice against a thief. This refusal of
redress took place in virtue of the legal doctrine, that no person can
be allowed to give evidence in a court of justice, who does not profess
belief in a God (any god is sufficient) and in a future state; which is
equivalent to declaring such persons to be outlaws, excluded from the
protection of the tribunals; who may not only be robbed or assaulted
with impunity, if no one but themselves, or persons of similar opinions,
be present, but any one else may be robbed or assaulted with impunity,
if the proof of the fact depends on their evidence. The assumption on
which this is grounded, is that the oath is worthless, of a person who
does not believe in a future state; a proposition which betokens much
ignorance of history in those who assent to it (since it is historically
true that a large proportion of infidels in all ages have been persons
of distinguished integrity and honour); and would be maintained by no
one who had the smallest conception how many of the persons in greatest
repute with the world, both for virtues and for attainments, are well
known, at least to their intimates, to be unbelievers. The rule,
besides, is suicidal, and cuts away its own foundation. Under pretence
that atheists must be liars, it admits the testimony of all atheists who
are willing to lie, and rejects only those who brave the obloquy of
publicly confessing a detested creed rather than affirm a falsehood. A
rule thus self-convicted of absurdity so far as regards its professed
purpose, can be kept in force only as a badge of hatred, a relic of
persecution; a persecution, too, having the peculiarity, that the
qualification for undergoing it, is the being clearly proved not to
deserve it. The rule, and the theory it implies, are hardly less
insulting to believers than to infidels. For if he who does not believe
in a future state, necessarily lies, it follows that they who do believe
are only prevented from lying, if prevented they are, by the fear of
hell. We will not do the authors and abettors of the rule the injury of
supposing, that the conception which they have formed of Christian
virtue is drawn from their own consciousness.

These, indeed, are but rags and remnants of persecution, and may be
thought to be not so much an indication of the wish to persecute, as an
example of that very frequent infirmity of English minds, which makes
them take a preposterous pleasure in the assertion of a bad principle,
when they are no longer bad enough to desire to carry it really into
practice. But unhappily there is no security in the state of the public
mind, that the suspension of worse forms of legal persecution, which has
lasted for about the space of a generation, will continue. In this age
the quiet surface of routine is as often ruffled by attempts to
resuscitate past evils, as to introduce new benefits. What is boasted of
at the present time as the revival of religion, is always, in narrow
and uncultivated minds, at least as much the revival of bigotry; and
where there is the strong permanent leaven of intolerance in the
feelings of a people, which at all times abides in the middle classes of
this country, it needs but little to provoke them into actively
persecuting those whom they have never ceased to think proper objects of
persecution.[10] For it is this--it is the opinions men entertain, and
the feelings they cherish, respecting those who disown the beliefs they
deem important, which makes this country not a place of mental freedom.
For a long time past, the chief mischief of the legal penalties is that
they strengthen the social stigma. It is that stigma which is really
effective, and so effective is it that the profession of opinions which
are under the ban of society is much less common in England, than is, in
many other countries, the avowal of those which incur risk of judicial
punishment. In respect to all persons but those whose pecuniary
circumstances make them independent of the good will of other people,
opinion, on this subject, is as efficacious as law; men might as well be
imprisoned, as excluded from the means of earning their bread. Those
whose bread is already secured, and who desire no favours from men in
power, or from bodies of men, or from the public, have nothing to fear
from the open avowal of any opinions, but to be ill-thought of and
ill-spoken of, and this it ought not to require a very heroic mould to
enable them to bear. There is no room for any appeal _ad misericordiam_
in behalf of such persons. But though we do not now inflict so much evil
on those who think differently from us, as it was formerly our custom to
do, it may be that we do ourselves as much evil as ever by our treatment
of them. Socrates was put to death, but the Socratic philosophy rose
like the sun in heaven, and spread its illumination over the whole
intellectual firmament. Christians were cast to the lions, but the
Christian church grew up a stately and spreading tree, overtopping the
older and less vigorous growths, and stifling them by its shade. Our
merely social intolerance kills no one, roots out no opinions, but
induces men to disguise them, or to abstain from any active effort for
their diffusion. With us, heretical opinions do not perceptibly gain, or
even lose, ground in each decade or generation; they never blaze out far
and wide, but continue to smoulder in the narrow circles of thinking and
studious persons among whom they originate, without ever lighting up the
general affairs of mankind with either a true or a deceptive light. And
thus is kept up a state of things very satisfactory to some minds,
because, without the unpleasant process of fining or imprisoning
anybody, it maintains all prevailing opinions outwardly undisturbed,
while it does not absolutely interdict the exercise of reason by
dissentients afflicted with the malady of thought. A convenient plan for
having peace in the intellectual world, and keeping all things going on
therein very much as they do already. But the price paid for this sort
of intellectual pacification, is the sacrifice of the entire moral
courage of the human mind. A state of things in which a large portion of
the most active and inquiring intellects find it advisable to keep the
genuine principles and grounds of their convictions within their own
breasts, and attempt, in what they address to the public, to fit as much
as they can of their own conclusions to premises which they have
internally renounced, cannot send forth the open, fearless characters,
and logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking world.
The sort of men who can be looked for under it, are either mere
conformers to commonplace, or time-servers for truth, whose arguments on
all great subjects are meant for their hearers, and are not those which
have convinced themselves. Those who avoid this alternative, do so by
narrowing their thoughts and interest to things which can be spoken of
without venturing within the region of principles, that is, to small
practical matters, which would come right of themselves, if but the
minds of mankind were strengthened and enlarged, and which will never be
made effectually right until then: while that which would strengthen and
enlarge men's minds, free and daring speculation on the highest
subjects, is abandoned.

Those in whose eyes this reticence on the part of heretics is no evil,
should consider in the first place, that in consequence of it there is
never any fair and thorough discussion of heretical opinions; and that
such of them as could not stand such a discussion, though they may be
prevented from spreading, do not disappear. But it is not the minds of
heretics that are deteriorated most, by the ban placed on all inquiry
which does not end in the orthodox conclusions. The greatest harm done
is to those who are not heretics, and whose whole mental development is
cramped, and their reason cowed, by the fear of heresy. Who can compute
what the world loses in the multitude of promising intellects combined
with timid characters, who dare not follow out any bold, vigorous,
independent train of thought, lest it should land them in something
which would admit of being considered irreligious or immoral? Among
them we may occasionally see some man of deep conscientiousness, and
subtle and refined understanding, who spends a life in sophisticating
with an intellect which he cannot silence, and exhausts the resources of
ingenuity in attempting to reconcile the promptings of his conscience
and reason with orthodoxy, which yet he does not, perhaps, to the end
succeed in doing. No one can be a great thinker who does not recognise,
that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to
whatever conclusions it may lead. Truth gains more even by the errors of
one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the
true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer
themselves to think. Not that it is solely, or chiefly, to form great
thinkers, that freedom of thinking is required. On the contrary, it is
as much, and even more indispensable, to enable average human beings to
attain the mental stature which they are capable of. There have been,
and may again be, great individual thinkers, in a general atmosphere of
mental slavery. But there never has been, nor ever will be, in that
atmosphere, an intellectually active people. Where any people has made a
temporary approach to such a character, it has been because the dread
of heterodox speculation was for a time suspended. Where there is a
tacit convention that principles are not to be disputed; where the
discussion of the greatest questions which can occupy humanity is
considered to be closed, we cannot hope to find that generally high
scale of mental activity which has made some periods of history so
remarkable. Never when controversy avoided the subjects which are large
and important enough to kindle enthusiasm, was the mind of a people
stirred up from its foundations, and the impulse given which raised even
persons of the most ordinary intellect to something of the dignity of
thinking beings. Of such we have had an example in the condition of
Europe during the times immediately following the Reformation; another,
though limited to the Continent and to a more cultivated class, in the
speculative movement of the latter half of the eighteenth century; and a
third, of still briefer duration, in the intellectual fermentation of
Germany during the Goethian and Fichtean period. These periods differed
widely in the particular opinions which they developed; but were alike
in this, that during all three the yoke of authority was broken. In
each, an old mental despotism had been thrown off, and no new one had
yet taken its place. The impulse given at these three periods has made
Europe what it now is. Every single improvement which has taken place
either in the human mind or in institutions, may be traced distinctly to
one or other of them. Appearances have for some time indicated that all
three impulses are well-nigh spent; and we can expect no fresh start,
until we again assert our mental freedom.

Let us now pass to the second division of the argument, and dismissing
the supposition that any of the received opinions may be false, let us
assume them to be true, and examine into the worth of the manner in
which they are likely to be held, when their truth is not freely and
openly canvassed. However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion
may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be
moved by the consideration that however true it may be, if it is not
fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead
dogma, not a living truth.

There is a class of persons (happily not quite so numerous as formerly)
who think it enough if a person assents undoubtingly to what they think
true, though he has no knowledge whatever of the grounds of the opinion,
and could not make a tenable defence of it against the most superficial
objections. Such persons, if they can once get their creed taught from
authority, naturally think that no good, and some harm, comes of its
being allowed to be questioned. Where their influence prevails, they
make it nearly impossible for the received opinion to be rejected wisely
and considerately, though it may still be rejected rashly and
ignorantly; for to shut out discussion entirely is seldom possible, and
when it once gets in, beliefs not grounded on conviction are apt to give
way before the slightest semblance of an argument. Waiving, however,
this possibility--assuming that the true opinion abides in the mind, but
abides as a prejudice, a belief independent of, and proof against,
argument--this is not the way in which truth ought to be held by a
rational being. This is not knowing the truth. Truth, thus held, is but
one superstition the more, accidentally clinging to the words which
enunciate a truth.

If the intellect and judgment of mankind ought to be cultivated, a thing
which Protestants at least do not deny, on what can these faculties be
more appropriately exercised by any one, than on the things which
concern him so much that it is considered necessary for him to hold
opinions on them? If the cultivation of the understanding consists in
one thing more than in another, it is surely in learning the grounds of
one's own opinions. Whatever people believe, on subjects on which it is
of the first importance to believe rightly, they ought to be able to
defend against at least the common objections. But, some one may say,
"Let them be _taught_ the grounds of their opinions. It does not follow
that opinions must be merely parroted because they are never heard
controverted. Persons who learn geometry do not simply commit the
theorems to memory, but understand and learn likewise the
demonstrations; and it would be absurd to say that they remain ignorant
of the grounds of geometrical truths, because they never hear any one
deny, and attempt to disprove them." Undoubtedly: and such teaching
suffices on a subject like mathematics, where there is nothing at all to
be said on the wrong side of the question. The peculiarity of the
evidence of mathematical truths is, that all the argument is on one
side. There are no objections, and no answers to objections. But on
every subject on which difference of opinion is possible, the truth
depends on a balance to be struck between two sets of conflicting
reasons. Even in natural philosophy, there is always some other
explanation possible of the same facts; some geocentric theory instead
of heliocentric, some phlogiston instead of oxygen; and it has to be
shown why that other theory cannot be the true one: and until this is
shown, and until we know how it is shown, we do not understand the
grounds of our opinion. But when we turn to subjects infinitely more
complicated, to morals, religion, politics, social relations, and the
business of life, three-fourths of the arguments for every disputed
opinion consist in dispelling the appearances which favour some opinion
different from it. The greatest orator, save one, of antiquity, has left
it on record that he always studied his adversary's case with as great,
if not with still greater, intensity than even his own. What Cicero
practised as the means of forensic success, requires to be imitated by
all who study any subject in order to arrive at the truth. 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. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment,
and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by
authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to
which he feels most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should hear
the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they
state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is
not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real
contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who
actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very
utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and
persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which
the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he
will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets
and removes that difficulty. Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called
educated men are in this condition; even of those who can argue fluently
for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false
for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the
mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered
what such persons may have to say; and consequently they do not, in any
proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves
profess. They do not know those parts of it which explain and justify
the remainder; the considerations which show that a fact which seemingly
conflicts with another is reconcilable with it, or that, of two
apparently strong reasons, one and not the other ought to be preferred.
All that part of the truth which turns the scale, and decides the
judgment of a completely informed mind, they are strangers to; nor is it
ever really known, but to those who have attended equally and
impartially to both sides, and endeavoured to see the reasons of both in
the strongest light. So essential is this discipline to a real
understanding of moral and human subjects, that if opponents of all
important truths do not exist, it is indispensable to imagine them, and
supply them with the strongest arguments which the most skilful devil's
advocate can conjure up.

To abate the force of these considerations, an enemy of free discussion
may be supposed to say, that there is no necessity for mankind in
general to know and understand all that can be said against or for their
opinions by philosophers and theologians. That it is not needful for
common men to be able to expose all the misstatements or fallacies of an
ingenious opponent. That it is enough if there is always somebody
capable of answering them, so that nothing likely to mislead
uninstructed persons remains unrefuted. That simple minds, having been
taught the obvious grounds of the truths inculcated on them, may trust
to authority for the rest, and being aware that they have neither
knowledge nor talent to resolve every difficulty which can be raised,
may repose in the assurance that all those which have been raised have
been or can be answered, by those who are specially trained to the task.

Conceding to this view of the subject the utmost that can be claimed for
it by those most easily satisfied with the amount of understanding of
truth which ought to accompany the belief of it; even so, the argument
for free discussion is no way weakened. For even this doctrine
acknowledges that mankind ought to have a rational assurance that all
objections have been satisfactorily answered; and how are they to be
answered if that which requires to be answered is not spoken? or how can
the answer be known to be satisfactory, if the objectors have no
opportunity of showing that it is unsatisfactory? If not the public, at
least the philosophers and theologians who are to resolve the
difficulties, must make themselves familiar with those difficulties in
their most puzzling form; and this cannot be accomplished unless they
are freely stated, and placed in the most advantageous light which they
admit of. The Catholic Church has its own way of dealing with this
embarrassing problem. It makes a broad separation between those who can
be permitted to receive its doctrines on conviction, and those who must
accept them on trust. Neither, indeed, are allowed any choice as to what
they will accept; but the clergy, such at least as can be fully confided
in, may admissibly and meritoriously make themselves acquainted with the
arguments of opponents, in order to answer them, and may, therefore,
read heretical books; the laity, not unless by special permission, hard
to be obtained. This discipline recognises a knowledge of the enemy's
case as beneficial to the teachers, but finds means, consistent with
this, of denying it to the rest of the world: thus giving to the _élite_
more mental culture, though not more mental freedom, than it allows to
the mass. By this device it succeeds in obtaining the kind of mental
superiority which its purposes require; for though culture without
freedom never made a large and liberal mind, it can make a clever _nisi
prius_ advocate of a cause. But in countries professing Protestantism,
this resource is denied; since Protestants hold, at least in theory,
that the responsibility for the choice of a religion must be borne by
each for himself, and cannot be thrown off upon teachers. Besides, in
the present state of the world, it is practically impossible that
writings which are read by the instructed can be kept from the
uninstructed. If the teachers of mankind are to be cognisant of all that
they ought to know, everything must be free to be written and published
without restraint.

If, however, the mischievous operation of the absence of free
discussion, when the received opinions are true, were confined to
leaving men ignorant of the grounds of those opinions, it might be
thought that this, if an intellectual, is no moral evil, and does not
affect the worth of the opinions, regarded in their influence on the
character. The fact, however, is, that not only the grounds of the
opinion are forgotten in the absence of discussion, but too often the
meaning of the opinion itself. The words which convey it, cease to
suggest ideas, or suggest only a small portion of those they were
originally employed to communicate. Instead of a vivid conception and a
living belief, there remain only a few phrases retained by rote; or, if
any part, the shell and husk only of the meaning is retained, the finer
essence being lost. The great chapter in human history which this fact
occupies and fills, cannot be too earnestly studied and meditated on.

It is illustrated in the experience of almost all ethical doctrines and
religious creeds. They are all full of meaning and vitality to those who
originate them, and to the direct disciples of the originators. Their
meaning continues to be felt in undiminished strength, and is perhaps
brought out into even fuller consciousness, so long as the struggle
lasts to give the doctrine or creed an ascendency over other creeds. At
last it either prevails, and becomes the general opinion, or its
progress stops; it keeps possession of the ground it has gained, but
ceases to spread further. When either of these results has become
apparent, controversy on the subject flags, and gradually dies away. The
doctrine has taken its place, if not as a received opinion, as one of
the admitted sects or divisions of opinion: those who hold it have
generally inherited, not adopted it; and conversion from one of these
doctrines to another, being now an exceptional fact, occupies little
place in the thoughts of their professors. Instead of being, as at
first, constantly on the alert either to defend themselves against the
world, or to bring the world over to them, they have subsided into
acquiescence, and neither listen, when they can help it, to arguments
against their creed, nor trouble dissentients (if there be such) with
arguments in its favour. From this time may usually be dated the decline
in the living power of the doctrine. We often hear the teachers of all
creeds lamenting the difficulty of keeping up in the minds of believers
a lively apprehension of the truth which they nominally recognise, so
that it may penetrate the feelings, and acquire a real mastery over the
conduct. No such difficulty is complained of while the creed is still
fighting for its existence: even the weaker combatants then know and
feel what they are fighting for, and the difference between it and other
doctrines; and in that period of every creed's existence, not a few
persons may be found, who have realised its fundamental principles in
all the forms of thought, have weighed and considered them in all their
important bearings, and have experienced the full effect on the
character, which belief in that creed ought to produce in a mind
thoroughly imbued with it. But when it has come to be a hereditary
creed, and to be received passively, not actively--when the mind is no
longer compelled, in the same degree as at first, to exercise its vital
powers on the questions which its belief presents to it, there is a
progressive tendency to forget all of the belief except the
formularies, or to give it a dull and torpid assent, as if accepting it
on trust dispensed with the necessity of realising it in consciousness,
or testing it by personal experience; until it almost ceases to connect
itself at all with the inner life of the human being. Then are seen the
cases, so frequent in this age of the world as almost to form the
majority, in which the creed remains as it were outside the mind,
encrusting and petrifying it against all other influences addressed to
the higher parts of our nature; manifesting its power by not suffering
any fresh and living conviction to get in, but itself doing nothing for
the mind or heart, except standing sentinel over them to keep them

To what an extent doctrines intrinsically fitted to make the deepest
impression upon the mind may remain in it as dead beliefs, without being
ever realised in the imagination, the feelings, or the understanding, is
exemplified by the manner in which the majority of believers hold the
doctrines of Christianity. By Christianity I here mean what is accounted
such by all churches and sects--the maxims and precepts contained in the
New Testament. These are considered sacred, and accepted as laws, by all
professing Christians. Yet it is scarcely too much to say that not one
Christian in a thousand guides or tests his individual conduct by
reference to those laws. The standard to which he does refer it, is the
custom of his nation, his class, or his religious profession. He has
thus, on the one hand, a collection of ethical maxims, which he believes
to have been vouchsafed to him by infallible wisdom as rules for his
government; and on the other, a set of every-day judgments and
practices, which go a certain length with some of those maxims, not so
great a length with others, stand in direct opposition to some, and are,
on the whole, a compromise between the Christian creed and the interests
and suggestions of worldly life. To the first of these standards he
gives his homage; to the other his real allegiance. All Christians
believe that the blessed are the poor and humble, and those who are
ill-used by the world; that it is easier for a camel to pass through the
eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; that
they should judge not, lest they be judged; that they should swear not
at all; that they should love their neighbour as themselves; that if one
take their cloak, they should give him their coat also; that they should
take no thought for the morrow; that if they would be perfect, they
should sell all that they have and give it to the poor. They are not
insincere when they say that they believe these things. They do believe
them, as people believe what they have always heard lauded and never
discussed. But in the sense of that living belief which regulates
conduct, they believe these doctrines just up to the point to which it
is usual to act upon them. The doctrines in their integrity are
serviceable to pelt adversaries with; and it is understood that they are
to be put forward (when possible) as the reasons for whatever people do
that they think laudable. But any one who reminded them that the maxims
require an infinity of things which they never even think of doing,
would gain nothing but to be classed among those very unpopular
characters who affect to be better than other people. The doctrines have
no hold on ordinary believers--are not a power in their minds. They have
a habitual respect for the sound of them, but no feeling which spreads
from the words to the things signified, and forces the mind to take
_them_ in, and make them conform to the formula. Whenever conduct is
concerned, they look round for Mr. A and B to direct them how far to go
in obeying Christ.

Now we may be well assured that the case was not thus, but far
otherwise, with the early Christians. Had it been thus, Christianity
never would have expanded from an obscure sect of the despised Hebrews
into the religion of the Roman empire. When their enemies said, "See how
these Christians love one another" (a remark not likely to be made by
anybody now), they assuredly had a much livelier feeling of the meaning
of their creed than they have ever had since. And to this cause,
probably, it is chiefly owing that Christianity now makes so little
progress in extending its domain, and after eighteen centuries, is still
nearly confined to Europeans and the descendants of Europeans. Even with
the strictly religious, who are much in earnest about their doctrines,
and attach a greater amount of meaning to many of them than people in
general, it commonly happens that the part which is thus comparatively
active in their minds is that which was made by Calvin, or Knox, or some
such person much nearer in character to themselves. The sayings of
Christ coexist passively in their minds, producing hardly any effect
beyond what is caused by mere listening to words so amiable and bland.
There are many reasons, doubtless, why doctrines which are the badge of
a sect retain more of their vitality than those common to all recognised
sects, and why more pains are taken by teachers to keep their meaning
alive; but one reason certainly is, that the peculiar doctrines are more
questioned, and have to be oftener defended against open gainsayers.
Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there
is no enemy in the field.

The same thing holds true, generally speaking, of all traditional
doctrines--those of prudence and knowledge of life, as well as of morals
or religion. All languages and literatures are full of general
observations on life, both as to what it is, and how to conduct oneself
in it; observations which everybody knows, which everybody repeats, or
hears with acquiescence, which are received as truisms, yet of which
most people first truly learn the meaning, when experience, generally of
a painful kind, has made it a reality to them. How often, when smarting
under some unforeseen misfortune or disappointment, does a person call
to mind some proverb or common saying, familiar to him all his life, the
meaning of which, if he had ever before felt it as he does now, would
have saved him from the calamity. There are indeed reasons for this,
other than the absence of discussion: there are many truths of which the
full meaning _cannot_ be realised, until personal experience has brought
it home. But much more of the meaning even of these would have been
understood, and what was understood would have been far more deeply
impressed on the mind, if the man had been accustomed to hear it argued
_pro_ and _con_ by people who did understand it. The fatal tendency of
mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer
doubtful, is the cause of half their errors. A contemporary author has
well spoken of "the deep slumber of a decided opinion."

But what! (it may be asked) Is the absence of unanimity an indispensable
condition of true knowledge? Is it necessary that some part of mankind
should persist in error, to enable any to realise the truth? Does a
belief cease to be real and vital as soon as it is generally
received--and is a proposition never thoroughly understood and felt
unless some doubt of it remains? As soon as mankind have unanimously
accepted a truth, does the truth perish within them? The highest aim and
best result of improved intelligence, it has hitherto been thought, is
to unite mankind more and more in the acknowledgment of all important
truths: and does the intelligence only last as long as it has not
achieved its object? Do the fruits of conquest perish by the very
completeness of the victory?

I affirm no such thing. As mankind improve, the number of doctrines
which are no longer disputed or doubted will be constantly on the
increase: and the well-being of mankind may almost be measured by the
number and gravity of the truths which have reached the point of being
uncontested. The cessation, on one question after another, of serious
controversy, is one of the necessary incidents of the consolidation of
opinion; a consolidation as salutary in the case of true opinions, as it
is dangerous and noxious when the opinions are erroneous. But though
this gradual narrowing of the bounds of diversity of opinion is
necessary in both senses of the term, being at once inevitable and
indispensable, we are not therefore obliged to conclude that all its
consequences must be beneficial. The loss of so important an aid to the
intelligent and living apprehension of a truth, as is afforded by the
necessity of explaining it to, or defending it against, opponents,
though not sufficient to outweigh, is no trifling drawback from, the
benefit of its universal recognition. Where this advantage can no longer
be had, I confess I should like to see the teachers of mankind
endeavouring to provide a substitute for it; some contrivance for making
the difficulties of the question as present to the learner's
consciousness, as if they were pressed upon him by a dissentient
champion, eager for his conversion.

But instead of seeking contrivances for this purpose, they have lost
those they formerly had. The Socratic dialectics, so magnificently
exemplified in the dialogues of Plato, were a contrivance of this
description. They were essentially a negative discussion of the great
questions of philosophy and life, directed with consummate skill to the
purpose of convincing any one who had merely adopted the commonplaces of
received opinion, that he did not understand the subject--that he as yet
attached no definite meaning to the doctrines he professed; in order
that, becoming aware of his ignorance, he might be put in the way to
attain a stable belief, resting on a clear apprehension both of the
meaning of doctrines and of their evidence. The school disputations of
the middle ages had a somewhat similar object. They were intended to
make sure that the pupil understood his own opinion, and (by necessary
correlation) the opinion opposed to it, and could enforce the grounds of
the one and confute those of the other. These last-mentioned contests
had indeed the incurable defect, that the premises appealed to were
taken from authority, not from reason; and, as a discipline to the mind,
they were in every respect inferior to the powerful dialectics which
formed the intellects of the "Socratici viri": but the modern mind owes
far more to both than it is generally willing to admit, and the present
modes of education contain nothing which in the smallest degree supplies
the place either of the one or of the other. A person who derives all
his instruction from teachers or books, even if he escape the besetting
temptation of contenting himself with cram, is under no compulsion to
hear both sides; accordingly it is far from a frequent accomplishment,
even among thinkers, to know both sides; and the weakest part of what
everybody says in defence of his opinion, is what he intends as a reply
to antagonists. It is the fashion of the present time to disparage
negative logic--that which points out weaknesses in theory or errors in
practice, without establishing positive truths. Such negative criticism
would indeed be poor enough as an ultimate result; but as a means to
attaining any positive knowledge or conviction worthy the name, it
cannot be valued too highly; and until people are again systematically
trained to it, there will be few great thinkers, and a low general
average of intellect, in any but the mathematical and physical
departments of speculation. On any other subject no one's opinions
deserve the name of knowledge, except so far as he has either had
forced upon him by others, or gone through of himself, the same mental
process which would have been required of him in carrying on an active
controversy with opponents. That, therefore, which when absent, it is so
indispensable, but so difficult, to create, how worse than absurd is it
to forego, when spontaneously offering itself! If there are any persons
who contest a received opinion, or who will do so if law or opinion will
let them, let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them,
and rejoice that there is some one to do for us what we otherwise ought,
if we have any regard for either the certainty or the vitality of our
convictions, to do with much greater labour for ourselves.

It still remains to speak of one of the principal causes which make
diversity of opinion advantageous, and will continue to do so until
mankind shall have entered a stage of intellectual advancement which at
present seems at an incalculable distance. We have hitherto considered
only two possibilities: that the received opinion may be false, and some
other opinion, consequently, true; or that, the received opinion being
true, a conflict with the opposite error is essential to a clear
apprehension and deep feeling of its truth. But there is a commoner
case than either of these; when the conflicting doctrines, instead of
being one true and the other false, share the truth between them; and
the nonconforming opinion is needed to supply the remainder of the
truth, of which the received doctrine embodies only a part. Popular
opinions, on subjects not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom
or never the whole truth. They are a part of the truth; sometimes a
greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and
disjoined from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and
limited. Heretical opinions, on the other hand, are generally some of
these suppressed and neglected truths, bursting the bonds which kept
them down, and either seeking reconciliation with the truth contained in
the common opinion, or fronting it as enemies, and setting themselves
up, with similar exclusiveness, as the whole truth. The latter case is
hitherto the most frequent, as, in the human mind, one-sidedness has
always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception. Hence, even in
revolutions of opinion, one part of the truth usually sets while another
rises. Even progress, which ought to superadd, for the most part only
substitutes one partial and incomplete truth for another; improvement
consisting chiefly in this, that the new fragment of truth is more
wanted, more adapted to the needs of the time, than that which it
displaces. Such being the partial character of prevailing opinions, even
when resting on a true foundation; every opinion which embodies somewhat
of the portion of truth which the common opinion omits, ought to be
considered precious, with whatever amount of error and confusion that
truth may be blended. No sober judge of human affairs will feel bound to
be indignant because those who force on our notice truths which we
should otherwise have overlooked, overlook some of those which we see.
Rather, he will think that so long as popular truth is one-sided, it is
more desirable than otherwise that unpopular truth should have one-sided
asserters too; such being usually the most energetic, and the most
likely to compel reluctant attention to the fragment of wisdom which
they proclaim as if it were the whole.

Thus, in the eighteenth century, when nearly all the instructed, and all
those of the uninstructed who were led by them, were lost in admiration
of what is called civilisation, and of the marvels of modern science,
literature, and philosophy, and while greatly overrating the amount of
unlikeness between the men of modern and those of ancient times,
indulged the belief that the whole of the difference was in their own
favour; with what a salutary shock did the paradoxes of Rousseau explode
like bombshells in the midst, dislocating the compact mass of one-sided
opinion, and forcing its elements to recombine in a better form and with
additional ingredients. Not that the current opinions were on the whole
farther from the truth than Rousseau's were; on the contrary, they were
nearer to it; they contained more of positive truth, and very much less
of error. Nevertheless there lay in Rousseau's doctrine, and has floated
down the stream of opinion along with it, a considerable amount of
exactly those truths which the popular opinion wanted; and these are the
deposit which was left behind when the flood subsided. The superior
worth of simplicity of life, the enervating and demoralising effect of
the trammels and hypocrisies of artificial society, are ideas which have
never been entirely absent from cultivated minds since Rousseau wrote;
and they will in time produce their due effect, though at present
needing to be asserted as much as ever, and to be asserted by deeds, for
words, on this subject, have nearly exhausted their power.

In politics, again, it is almost a commonplace, 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. Unless opinions favourable to democracy
and to aristocracy, to property and to equality, to co-operation and to
competition, to luxury and to abstinence, to sociality and
individuality, to liberty and discipline, and all the other standing
antagonisms of practical life, are expressed with equal freedom, and
enforced and defended with equal talent and energy, there is no chance
of both elements obtaining their due; one scale is sure to go up and the
other down. Truth, in the great practical concerns of life, is so much a
question of the reconciling and combining of opposites, that very few
have minds sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the adjustment
with an approach to correctness, and it has to be made by the rough
process of a struggle between combatants fighting under hostile
banners. On any of the great open questions just enumerated, if either
of the two opinions has a better claim than the other, not merely to be
tolerated, but to be encouraged and countenanced, it is the one which
happens at the particular time and place to be in a minority. That is
the opinion which, for the time being, represents the neglected
interests, the side of human well-being which is in danger of obtaining
less than its share. I am aware that there is not, in this country, any
intolerance of differences of opinion on most of these topics. They are
adduced to show, by admitted and multiplied examples, the universality
of the fact, that only through diversity of opinion is there, in the
existing state of human intellect, a chance of fair-play to all sides of
the truth. When there are persons to be found, who form an exception to
the apparent unanimity of the world on any subject, even if the world is
in the right, it is always probable that dissentients have something
worth hearing to say for themselves, and that truth would lose something
by their silence.

It may be objected, "But _some_ received principles, especially on the
highest and most vital subjects, are more than half-truths. The
Christian morality, for instance, is the whole truth on that subject,
and if any one teaches a morality which varies from it, he is wholly in
error." As this is of all cases the most important in practice, none can
be fitter to test the general maxim. But before pronouncing what
Christian morality is or is not, it would be desirable to decide what is
meant by Christian morality. If it means the morality of the New
Testament, I wonder that any one who derives his knowledge of this from
the book itself, can suppose that it was announced, or intended, as a
complete doctrine of morals. The Gospel always refers to a pre-existing
morality, and confines its precepts to the particulars in which that
morality was to be corrected, or superseded by a wider and higher;
expressing itself, moreover, in terms most general, often impossible to
be interpreted literally, and possessing rather the impressiveness of
poetry or eloquence than the precision of legislation. To extract from
it a body of ethical doctrine, has ever been possible without eking it
out from the Old Testament, that is, from a system elaborate indeed, but
in many respects barbarous, and intended only for a barbarous people.
St. Paul, a declared enemy to this Judaical mode of interpreting the
doctrine and filling up the scheme of his Master, equally assumes a
pre-existing morality, namely, that of the Greeks and Romans; and his
advice to Christians is in a great measure a system of accommodation to
that; even to the extent of giving an apparent sanction to slavery. What
is called Christian, but should rather be termed theological, morality,
was not the work of Christ or the Apostles, but is of much later origin,
having been gradually built up by the Catholic church of the first five
centuries, and though not implicitly adopted by moderns and Protestants,
has been much less modified by them than might have been expected. For
the most part, indeed, they have contented themselves with cutting off
the additions which had been made to it in the middle ages, each sect
supplying the place by fresh additions, adapted to its own character and
tendencies. That mankind owe a great debt to this morality, and to its
early teachers, I should be the last person to deny; but I do not
scruple to say of it, that it is, in many important points, incomplete
and one-sided, and that unless ideas and feelings, not sanctioned by it,
had contributed to the formation of European life and character, human
affairs would have been in a worse condition than they now are.
Christian morality (so called) has all the characters of a reaction; it
is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative
rather than positive; passive rather than active; Innocence rather than
Nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than energetic Pursuit of Good:
in its precepts (as has been well said) "thou shalt not" predominates
unduly over "thou shalt." In its horror of sensuality, it made an idol
of asceticism, which has been gradually compromised away into one of
legality. It holds out the hope of heaven and the threat of hell, as the
appointed and appropriate motives to a virtuous life: in this falling
far below the best of the ancients, and doing what lies in it to give to
human morality an essentially selfish character, by disconnecting each
man's feelings of duty from the interests of his fellow-creatures,
except so far as a self-interested inducement is offered to him for
consulting them. It is essentially a doctrine of passive obedience; it
inculcates submission to all authorities found established; who indeed
are not to be actively obeyed when they command what religion forbids,
but who are not to be resisted, far less rebelled against, for any
amount of wrong to ourselves. And while, in the morality of the best
Pagan nations, duty to the State holds even a disproportionate place,
infringing on the just liberty of the individual; in purely Christian
ethics, that grand department of duty is scarcely noticed or
acknowledged. It is in the Koran, not the New Testament, that we read
the maxim--"A ruler who appoints any man to an office, when there is in
his dominions another man better qualified for it, sins against God and
against the State." What little recognition the idea of obligation to
the public obtains in modern morality, is derived from Greek and Roman
sources, not from Christian; as, even in the morality of private life,
whatever exists of magnanimity, high-mindedness, personal dignity, even
the sense of honour, is derived from the purely human, not the religious
part of our education, and never could have grown out of a standard of
ethics in which the only worth, professedly recognised, is that of

I am as far as any one from pretending that these defects are
necessarily inherent in the Christian ethics, in every manner in which
it can be conceived, or that the many requisites of a complete moral
doctrine which it does not contain, do not admit of being reconciled
with it. Far less would I insinuate this of the doctrines and precepts
of Christ himself. I believe that the sayings of Christ are all, that I
can see any evidence of their having been intended to be; that they are
irreconcilable with nothing which a comprehensive morality requires;
that everything which is excellent in ethics may be brought within them,
with no greater violence to their language than has been done to it by
all who have attempted to deduce from them any practical system of
conduct whatever. But it is quite consistent with this, to believe that
they contain, and were meant to contain, only a part of the truth; that
many essential elements of the highest morality are among the things
which are not provided for, nor intended to be provided for, in the
recorded deliverances of the Founder of Christianity, and which have
been entirely thrown aside in the system of ethics erected on the basis
of those deliverances by the Christian Church. And this being so, I
think it a great error to persist in attempting to find in the Christian
doctrine that complete rule for our guidance, which its author intended
it to sanction and enforce, but only partially to provide. I believe,
too, that this narrow theory is becoming a grave practical evil,
detracting greatly from the value of the moral training and instruction,
which so many well-meaning persons are now at length exerting themselves
to promote. I much fear that by attempting to form the mind and feelings
on an exclusively religious type, and discarding those secular
standards (as for want of a better name they may be called) which
heretofore co-existed with and supplemented the Christian ethics,
receiving some of its spirit, and infusing into it some of theirs, there
will result, and is even now resulting, a low, abject, servile type of
character, which, submit itself as it may to what it deems the Supreme
Will, is incapable of rising to or sympathising in the conception of
Supreme Goodness. I believe that other ethics than any which can be
evolved from exclusively Christian sources, must exist side by side with
Christian ethics to produce the moral regeneration of mankind; and that
the Christian system is no exception to the rule, that in an imperfect
state of the human mind, the interests of truth require a diversity of
opinions. It is not necessary that in ceasing to ignore the moral truths
not contained in Christianity, men should ignore any of those which it
does contain. Such prejudice, or oversight, when it occurs, is
altogether an evil; but it is one from which we cannot hope to be always
exempt, and must be regarded as the price paid for an inestimable good.
The exclusive pretension made by a part of the truth to be the whole,
must and ought to be protested against, and if a reactionary impulse
should make the protestors unjust in their turn, this one-sidedness,
like the other, may be lamented, but must be tolerated. If Christians
would teach infidels to be just to Christianity, they should themselves
be just to infidelity. It can do truth no service to blink the fact,
known to all who have the most ordinary acquaintance with literary
history, that a large portion of the noblest and most valuable moral
teaching has been the work, not only of men who did not know, but of men
who knew and rejected, the Christian faith.

I do not pretend that the most unlimited use of the freedom of
enunciating all possible opinions would put an end to the evils of
religious or philosophical sectarianism. Every truth which men of narrow
capacity are in earnest about, is sure to be asserted, inculcated, and
in many ways even acted on, as if no other truth existed in the world,
or at all events none that could limit or qualify the first. I
acknowledge that the tendency of all opinions to become sectarian is not
cured by the freest discussion, but is often heightened and exacerbated
thereby; the truth which ought to have been, but was not, seen, being
rejected all the more violently because proclaimed by persons regarded
as opponents. But it is not on the impassioned partisan, it is on the
calmer and more disinterested bystander, that this collision of
opinions works its salutary effect. Not the violent conflict between
parts of the truth, but the quiet suppression of half of it, is the
formidable evil: there is always hope when people are forced to listen
to both sides; it is when they attend only to one that errors harden
into prejudices, and truth itself ceases to have the effect of truth, by
being exaggerated into falsehood. And since there are few mental
attributes more rare than that judicial faculty which can sit in
intelligent judgment between two sides of a question, of which only one
is represented by an advocate before it, truth has no chance but in
proportion as every side of it, every opinion which embodies any
fraction of the truth, not only finds advocates, but is so advocated as
to be listened to.

We have now recognised the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind
(on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of opinion, and
freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we
will now briefly recapitulate.

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for
aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very
commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or
prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it
is only by the collision of adverse opinions, that the remainder of the
truth has any chance of being supplied.

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole
truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and
earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held
in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of
its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of
the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and
deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma
becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering
the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt
conviction, from reason or personal experience.

Before quitting the subject of freedom of opinion, it is fit to take
some notice of those who say, that the free expression of all opinions
should be permitted, on condition that the manner be temperate, and do
not pass the bounds of fair discussion. Much might be said on the
impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed;
for if the test be offence to those whose opinion is attacked, I think
experience testifies that this offence is given whenever the attack is
telling and powerful, and that every opponent who pushes them hard, and
whom they find it difficult to answer, appears to them, if he shows any
strong feeling on the subject, an intemperate opponent. But this, though
an important consideration in a practical point of view, merges in a
more fundamental objection. Undoubtedly the manner of asserting an
opinion, even though it be a true one, may be very objectionable, and
may justly incur severe censure. But the principal offences of the kind
are such as it is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal,
to bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue
sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the elements
of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion. But all this, even to
the most aggravated degree, is so continually done in perfect good
faith, by persons who are not considered, and in many other respects may
not deserve to be considered, ignorant or incompetent, that it is rarely
possible on adequate grounds conscientiously to stamp the
misrepresentation as morally culpable; and still less could law presume
to interfere with this kind of controversial misconduct. With regard to
what is commonly meant by intemperate discussion, namely invective,
sarcasm, personality, and the like, the denunciation of these weapons
would deserve more sympathy if it were ever proposed to interdict them
equally to both sides; but it is only desired to restrain the employment
of them against the prevailing opinion: against the unprevailing they
may not only be used without general disapproval, but will be likely to
obtain for him who uses them the praise of honest zeal and righteous
indignation. Yet whatever mischief arises from their use, is greatest
when they are employed against the comparatively defenceless; and
whatever unfair advantage can be derived by any opinion from this mode
of asserting it, accrues almost exclusively to received opinions. The
worst offence of this kind which can be committed by a polemic, is to
stigmatise those who hold the contrary opinion as bad and immoral men.
To calumny of this sort, those who hold any unpopular opinion are
peculiarly exposed, because they are in general few and uninfluential,
and nobody but themselves feel much interest in seeing justice done
them; but this weapon is, from the nature of the case, denied to those
who attack a prevailing opinion: they can neither use it with safety to
themselves, nor, if they could, would it do anything but recoil on their
own cause. In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can
only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most
cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they hardly ever
deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured
vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does
deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to
those who profess them. For the interest, therefore, of truth and
justice, it is far more important to restrain this employment of
vituperative language than the other; and, for example, if it were
necessary to choose, there would be much more need to discourage
offensive attacks on infidelity, than on religion. It is, however,
obvious that law and authority have no business with restraining either,
while opinion ought, in every instance, to determine its verdict by the
circumstances of the individual case; condemning every one, on whichever
side of the argument he places himself, in whose mode of advocacy either
want of candour, or malignity, bigotry, or intolerance of feeling
manifest themselves; but not inferring these vices from the side which
a person takes, though it be the contrary side of the question to our
own: and giving merited honour to every one, whatever opinion he may
hold, who has calmness to see and honesty to state what his opponents
and their opinions really are, exaggerating nothing to their discredit,
keeping nothing back which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their
favour. This is the real morality of public discussion; and if often
violated, I am happy to think that there are many controversialists who
to a great extent observe it, and a still greater number who
conscientiously strive towards it.


[6] These words had scarcely been written, when, as if to give them an
emphatic contradiction, occurred the Government Press Prosecutions of
1858. That ill-judged interference with the liberty of public discussion
has not, however, induced me to alter a single word in the text, nor has
it at all weakened my conviction that, moments of panic excepted, the
era of pains and penalties for political discussion has, in our own
country, passed away. For, in the first place, the prosecutions were not
persisted in; and, in the second, they were never, properly speaking,
political prosecutions. The offence charged was not that of criticising
institutions, or the acts or persons of rulers, but of circulating what
was deemed an immoral doctrine, the lawfulness of Tyrannicide.

If the arguments of the present chapter are of any validity, there ought
to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter
of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be
considered. It would, therefore, be irrelevant and out of place to
examine here, whether the doctrine of Tyrannicide deserves that title. I
shall content myself with saying, that the subject has been at all times
one of the open questions of morals; that the act of a private citizen
in striking down a criminal, who, by raising himself above the law, has
placed himself beyond the reach of legal punishment or control, has been
accounted by whole nations, and by some of the best and wisest of men,
not a crime, but an act of exalted virtue; and that, right or wrong, it
is not of the nature of assassination, but of civil war. As such, I hold
that the instigation to it, in a specific case, may be a proper subject
of punishment, but only if an overt act has followed, and at least a
probable connection can be established between the act and the
instigation. Even then, it is not a foreign government, but the very
government assailed, which alone, in the exercise of self-defence, can
legitimately punish attacks directed against its own existence.

[7] Thomas Pooley, Bodmin Assizes, July 31, 1857. In December following,
he received a free pardon from the Crown.

[8] George Jacob Holyoake, August 17, 1857; Edward Truelove, July, 1857.

[9] Baron de Gleichen, Marlborough-Street Police Court, August 4, 1857.

[10] Ample warning may be drawn from the large infusion of the passions
of a persecutor, which mingled with the general display of the worst
parts of our national character on the occasion of the Sepoy
insurrection. The ravings of fanatics or charlatans from the pulpit may
be unworthy of notice; but the heads of the Evangelical party have
announced as their principle, for the government of Hindoos and
Mahomedans, that no schools be supported by public money in which the
Bible is not taught, and by necessary consequence that no public
employment be given to any but real or pretended Christians. An
Under-Secretary of State, in a speech delivered to his constituents on
the 12th of November, 1857, is reported to have said: "Toleration of
their faith" (the faith of a hundred millions of British subjects), "the
superstition which they called religion, by the British Government, had
had the effect of retarding the ascendency of the British name, and
preventing the salutary growth of Christianity.... Toleration was the
great corner-stone of the religious liberties of this country; but do
not let them abuse that precious word toleration. As he understood it,
it meant the complete liberty to all, freedom of worship, _among
Christians, who worshipped upon the same foundation_. It meant
toleration of all sects and denominations of _Christians who believed in
the one mediation_." I desire to call attention to the fact, that a man
who has been deemed fit to fill a high office in the government of this
country, under a liberal Ministry, maintains the doctrine that all who
do not believe in the divinity of Christ are beyond the pale of
toleration. Who, after this imbecile display, can indulge the illusion
that religious persecution has passed away, never to return?



Such being the reasons which make it imperative that human beings should
be free to form opinions, and to express their opinions without reserve;
and such the baneful consequences to the intellectual, and through that
to the moral nature of man, unless this liberty is either conceded, or
asserted in spite of prohibition; let us next examine whether the same
reasons do not require that men should be free to act upon their
opinions--to carry these out in their lives, without hindrance, either
physical or moral, from their fellow-men, so long as it is at their own
risk and peril. This last proviso is of course indispensable. No one
pretends that actions should be as free as opinions. On the contrary,
even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they
are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive
instigation to some mischievous act. An opinion that corn-dealers are
starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be
unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly
incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled
before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same
mob in the form of a placard. Acts, of whatever kind, which, without
justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the more important
cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavourable
sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind.
The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make
himself a nuisance to other people. But if he refrains from molesting
others in what concerns them, and merely acts according to his own
inclination and judgment in things which concern himself, the same
reasons which show that opinion should be free, prove also that he
should be allowed, without molestation, to carry his opinions into
practice at his own cost. That mankind are not infallible; that their
truths, for the most part, are only half-truths; that unity of opinion,
unless resulting from the fullest and freest comparison of opposite
opinions, is not desirable, and diversity not an evil, but a good,
until mankind are much more capable than at present of recognising all
sides of the truth, are principles applicable to men's modes of action,
not less than to their opinions. As it is useful that while mankind are
imperfect there should be different opinions, so is it that there should
be different experiments of living; that free scope should be given to
varieties of character, short of injury to others; and that the worth of
different modes of life should be proved practically, when any one
thinks fit to try them. It is desirable, in short, that in things which
do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself.
Where, not the person's own character, but the traditions or customs of
other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the
principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient
of individual and social progress.

In maintaining this principle, the greatest difficulty to be encountered
does not lie in the appreciation of means towards an acknowledged end,
but in the indifference of persons in general to the end itself. 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 co-ordinate
element with all that is designated by the terms civilisation,
instruction, education, culture, but is itself a necessary part and
condition of all those things; there would be no danger that liberty
should be under-valued, 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 recognised by the common
modes of thinking, as having any intrinsic worth, or deserving any
regard on its own account. The majority, being satisfied with the ways
of mankind as they now are (for it is they who make them what they are),
cannot comprehend why those ways should not be good enough for
everybody; and what is more, spontaneity forms no part of the ideal of
the majority of moral and social reformers, but is rather looked on with
jealousy, as a troublesome and perhaps rebellious obstruction to the
general acceptance of what these reformers, in their own judgment, think
would be best for mankind. Few persons, out of Germany, even comprehend
the meaning of the doctrine which Wilhelm von Humboldt, so eminent both
as a _savant_ and as a politician, made the text of a treatise--that
"the end of man, or that which is prescribed by the eternal or immutable
dictates of reason, and not suggested by vague and transient desires,
is the highest and most harmonious development of his powers to a
complete and consistent whole;" that, therefore, the object "towards
which every human being must ceaselessly direct his efforts, and on
which especially those who design to influence their fellow-men must
ever keep their eyes, is the individuality of power and development;"
that for this there are two requisites, "freedom, and a variety of
situations;" and that from the union of these arise "individual vigour
and manifold diversity," which combine themselves in "originality."[11]

Little, however, as people are accustomed to a doctrine like that of Von
Humboldt, and surprising as it may be to them to find so high a value
attached to individuality, the question, one must nevertheless think,
can only be one of degree. No one's idea of excellence in conduct is
that people should do absolutely nothing but copy one another. No one
would assert that people ought not to put into their mode of life, and
into the conduct of their concerns, any impress whatever of their own
judgment, or of their own individual character. On the other hand, it
would be absurd to pretend that people ought to live as if nothing
whatever had been known in the world before they came into it; as if
experience had as yet done nothing towards showing that one mode of
existence, or of conduct, is preferable to another. Nobody denies that
people should be so taught and trained in youth, as to know and benefit
by the ascertained results of human experience. But it is the privilege
and proper condition of a human being, arrived at the maturity of his
faculties, to use and interpret experience in his own way. It is for him
to find out what part of recorded experience is properly applicable to
his own circumstances and character. The traditions and customs of other
people are, to a certain extent, evidence of what their experience has
taught _them_; presumptive evidence, and as such, have a claim to his
deference: but, in the first place, their experience may be too narrow;
or they may not have interpreted it rightly. Secondly, their
interpretation of experience may be correct, but unsuitable to him.
Customs are made for customary circumstances, and customary characters:
and his circumstances or his character may be uncustomary. Thirdly,
though the customs be both good as customs, and suitable to him, yet to
conform to custom, merely _as_ custom, does not educate or develop in
him any of the qualities which are the distinctive endowment of a human
being. The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative
feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only
in making a choice. He who does anything because it is the custom, makes
no choice. He gains no practice either in discerning or in desiring what
is best. The mental and moral, like the muscular powers, are improved
only by being used. The faculties are called into no exercise by doing a
thing merely because others do it, no more than by believing a thing
only because others believe it. If the grounds of an opinion are not
conclusive to the person's own reason, his reason cannot be
strengthened, but is likely to be weakened by his adopting it: and if
the inducements to an act are not such as are consentaneous to his own
feelings and character (where affection, or the rights of others, are
not concerned), it is so much done towards rendering his feelings and
character inert and torpid, instead of active and energetic.

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. It is
possible that he might be guided in some good path, and kept out of
harm's way, without any of these things. But what will be his
comparative worth as a human being? It really is of importance, not only
what men do, but also what manner of men they are that do it. Among the
works of man, which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and
beautifying, the first in importance surely is man himself. Supposing it
were possible to get houses built, corn grown, battles fought, causes
tried, and even churches erected and prayers said, by machinery--by
automatons in human form--it would be a considerable loss to exchange
for these automatons even the men and women who at present inhabit the
more civilised parts of the world, and who assuredly are but starved
specimens of what nature can and will produce. Human nature is not a
machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work
prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop
itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces
which make it a living thing.

It will probably be conceded that it is desirable people should exercise
their understandings, and that an intelligent following of custom, or
even occasionally an intelligent deviation from custom, is better than a
blind and simply mechanical adhesion to it. To a certain extent it is
admitted, that our understanding should be our own: but there is not the
same willingness to admit that our desires and impulses should be our
own likewise; or that to possess impulses of our own, and of any
strength, is anything but a peril and a snare. Yet desires and impulses
are as much a part of a perfect human being, as beliefs and restraints:
and strong impulses are only perilous when not properly balanced; when
one set of aims and inclinations is developed into strength, while
others, which ought to co-exist with them, remain weak and inactive. It
is not because men's desires are strong that they act ill; it is because
their consciences are weak. There is no natural connection between
strong impulses and a weak conscience. The natural connection is the
other way. To say that one person's desires and feelings are stronger
and more various than those of another, is merely to say that he has
more of the raw material of human nature, and is therefore capable,
perhaps of more evil, but certainly of more good. Strong impulses are
but another name for energy. Energy may be turned to bad uses; but more
good may always be made of an energetic nature, than of an indolent and
impassive one. Those who have most natural feeling, are always those
whose cultivated feelings may be made the strongest. The same strong
susceptibilities which make the personal impulses vivid and powerful,
are also the source from whence are generated the most passionate love
of virtue, and the sternest self-control. It is through the cultivation
of these, that society both does its duty and protects its interests:
not by rejecting the stuff of which heroes are made, because it knows
not how to make them. A person whose desires and impulses are his
own--are the expression of his own nature, as it has been developed and
modified by his own culture--is said to have a character. One whose
desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a
steam-engine has a character. If, in addition to being his own, his
impulses are strong, and are under the government of a strong will, he
has an energetic character. Whoever thinks that individuality of
desires and impulses should not be encouraged to unfold itself, must
maintain that society has no need of strong natures--is not the better
for containing many persons who have much character--and that a high
general average of energy is not desirable.

In some early states of society, these forces might be, and were, too
much ahead of the power which society then possessed of disciplining and
controlling them. There has been a time when the element of spontaneity
and individuality was in excess, and the social principle had a hard
struggle with it. The difficulty then was, to induce men of strong
bodies or minds to pay obedience to any rules which required them to
control their impulses. To overcome this difficulty, law and discipline,
like the Popes struggling against the Emperors, asserted a power over
the whole man, claiming to control all his life in order to control his
character--which society had not found any other sufficient means of
binding. But society has now fairly got the better of individuality; and
the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the
deficiency, of personal impulses and preferences. Things are vastly
changed, since the passions of those who were strong by station or by
personal endowment were in a state of habitual rebellion against laws
and ordinances, and required to be rigorously chained up to enable the
persons within their reach to enjoy any particle of security. In our
times, from the highest class of society down to the lowest, every one
lives as under the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship. Not only in
what concerns others, but in what concerns only themselves, the
individual, or the family, do not ask themselves--what do I prefer? or,
what would suit my character and disposition? or, what would allow the
best and highest in me to have fair-play, and enable it to grow and
thrive? They ask themselves, what is suitable to my position? what is
usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or
(worse still) what is usually done by persons of a station and
circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is
customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does
not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary.
Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke: even in what people do for
pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they like in crowds;
they exercise choice only among things commonly done: peculiarity of
taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes: until
by dint of not following their own nature, they have no nature to
follow: their human capacities are withered and starved: they become
incapable of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are generally
without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or properly their
own. Now is this, or is it not, the desirable condition of human nature?

It is so, on the Calvinistic theory. According to that, the one great
offence of man is Self-will. All the good of which humanity is capable,
is comprised in Obedience. You have no choice; thus you must do, and no
otherwise: "whatever is not a duty, is a sin." Human nature being
radically corrupt, there is no redemption for any one until human nature
is killed within him. To one holding this theory of life, crushing out
any of the human faculties, capacities, and susceptibilities, is no
evil: man needs no capacity, but that of surrendering himself to the
will of God: and if he uses any of his faculties for any other purpose
but to do that supposed will more effectually, he is better without
them. That is the theory of Calvinism; and it is held, in a mitigated
form, by many who do not consider themselves Calvinists; the mitigation
consisting in giving a less ascetic interpretation to the alleged will
of God; asserting it to be his will that mankind should gratify some of
their inclinations; of course not in the manner they themselves prefer,
but in the way of obedience, that is, in a way prescribed to them by
authority; and, therefore, by the necessary conditions of the case, the
same for all.

In some such insidious form there is at present a strong tendency to
this narrow theory of life, and to the pinched and hidebound type of
human character which it patronises. Many persons, no doubt, sincerely
think that human beings thus cramped and dwarfed, are as their Maker
designed them to be; just as many have thought that trees are a much
finer thing when clipped into pollards, or cut out into figures of
animals, than as nature made them. But if it be any part of religion to
believe that man was made by a good being, it is more consistent with
that faith to believe, that this Being gave all human faculties that
they might be cultivated and unfolded, not rooted out and consumed, and
that he takes delight in every nearer approach made by his creatures to
the ideal conception embodied in them, every increase in any of their
capabilities of comprehension, of action, or of enjoyment. There is a
different type of human excellence from the Calvinistic; a conception of
humanity as having its nature bestowed on it for other purposes than
merely to be abnegated. "Pagan self-assertion" is one of the elements of
human worth, as well as "Christian self-denial."[12] There is a Greek
ideal of self-development, which the Platonic and Christian ideal of
self-government blends with, but does not supersede. It may be better to
be a John Knox than an Alcibiades, but it is better to be a Pericles
than either; nor would a Pericles, if we had one in these days, be
without anything good which belonged to John Knox.

It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in
themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it forth, within the
limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings
become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation; and as the works
partake the character of those who do them, by the same process human
life also becomes rich, diversified, and animating, furnishing more
abundant aliment to high thoughts and elevating feelings, and
strengthening the tie which binds every individual to the race, by
making the race infinitely better worth belonging to. In proportion to
the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable
to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others.
There is a greater fulness of life about his own existence, and when
there is more life in the units there is more in the mass which is
composed of them. As much compression as is necessary to prevent the
stronger specimens of human nature from encroaching on the rights of
others, cannot be dispensed with; but for this there is ample
compensation even in the point of view of human development. The means
of development which the individual loses by being prevented from
gratifying his inclinations to the injury of others, are chiefly
obtained at the expense of the development of other people. And even to
himself there is a full equivalent in the better development of the
social part of his nature, rendered possible by the restraint put upon
the selfish part. To be held to rigid rules of justice for the sake of
others, develops the feelings and capacities which have the good of
others for their object. But to be restrained in things not affecting
their good, by their mere displeasure, develops nothing valuable, except
such force of character as may unfold itself in resisting the restraint.
If acquiesced in, it dulls and blunts the whole nature. To give any
fair-play to the nature of each, it is essential that different persons
should be allowed to lead different lives. In proportion as this
latitude has been exercised in any age, has that age been noteworthy to
posterity. Even despotism does not produce its worst effects, so long as
Individuality exists under it; and whatever crushes individuality is
despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes
to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.

Having said that Individuality is the same thing with development, and
that it is only the cultivation of individuality which produces, or can
produce, well-developed human beings, I might here close the argument:
for what more or better can be said of any condition of human affairs,
than that it brings human beings themselves nearer to the best thing
they can be? or what worse can be said of any obstruction to good, than
that it prevents this? Doubtless, however, these considerations will not
suffice to convince those who most need convincing; and it is necessary
further to show, that these developed human beings are of some use to
the undeveloped--to point out to those who do not desire liberty, and
would not avail themselves of it, that they may be in some intelligible
manner rewarded for allowing other people to make use of it without

In the first place, then, I would suggest that they might possibly
learn something from them. It will not be denied by anybody, that
originality is a valuable element in human affairs. There is always need
of persons not only to discover new truths, and point out when what were
once truths are true no longer, but also to commence new practices, and
set the example of more enlightened conduct, and better taste and sense
in human life. This cannot well be gainsaid by anybody who does not
believe that the world has already attained perfection in all its ways
and practices. It is true that this benefit is not capable of being
rendered by everybody alike: there are but few persons, in comparison
with the whole of mankind, whose experiments, if adopted by others,
would be likely to be any improvement on established practice. But these
few are the salt of the earth; without them, human life would become a
stagnant pool. Not only is it they who introduce good things which did
not before exist; it is they who keep the life in those which already
existed. If there were nothing new to be done, would human intellect
cease to be necessary? Would it be a reason why those who do the old
things should forget why they are done, and do them like cattle, not
like human beings? There is only too great a tendency in the best
beliefs and practices to degenerate into the mechanical; and unless
there were a succession of persons whose ever-recurring originality
prevents the grounds of those beliefs and practices from becoming merely
traditional, such dead matter would not resist the smallest shock from
anything really alive, and there would be no reason why civilisation
should not die out, as in the Byzantine Empire. Persons of genius, it is
true, are, and are always likely to be, a small minority; but in order
to have them, it is necessary to preserve the soil in which they grow.
Genius can only breathe freely in an _atmosphere_ of freedom. Persons of
genius are, _ex vi termini_, _more_ individual than any other
people--less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves, without
hurtful compression, into any of the small number of moulds which
society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming
their own character. If from timidity they consent to be forced into one
of these moulds, and to let all that part of themselves which cannot
expand under the pressure remain unexpanded, society will be little the
better for their genius. If they are of a strong character, and break
their fetters, they become a mark for the society which has not
succeeded in reducing them to commonplace, to point at with solemn
warning as "wild," "erratic," and the like; much as if one should
complain of the Niagara river for not flowing smoothly between its banks
like a Dutch canal.

I insist thus emphatically on the importance of genius, and the
necessity of allowing it to unfold itself freely both in thought and in
practice, being well aware that no one will deny the position in theory,
but knowing also that almost every one, in reality, is totally
indifferent to it. People think genius a fine thing if it enables a man
to write an exciting poem, or paint a picture. But in its true sense,
that of originality in thought and action, though no one says that it is
not a thing to be admired, nearly all, at heart, think that they can do
very well without it. Unhappily this is too natural to be wondered at.
Originality is the one thing which unoriginal minds cannot feel the use
of. They cannot see what it is to do for them: how should they? If they
could see what it would do for them, it would not be originality. The
first service which originality has to render them, is that of opening
their eyes: which being once fully done, they would have a chance of
being themselves original. Meanwhile, recollecting that nothing was ever
yet done which some one was not the first to do, and that all good
things which exist are the fruits of originality, let them be modest
enough to believe that there is something still left for it to
accomplish, and assure themselves that they are more in need of
originality, the less they are conscious of the want.

In sober truth, whatever homage may be professed, or even paid, to real
or supposed mental superiority, the general tendency of things
throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among
mankind. In ancient history, in the middle ages, and in a diminishing
degree through the long transition from feudality to the present time,
the individual was a power in himself; and if he had either great
talents or a high social position, he was a considerable power. At
present individuals are lost in the crowd. In politics it is almost a
triviality to say that public opinion now rules the world. The only
power deserving the name is that of masses, and of governments while
they make themselves the organ of the tendencies and instincts of
masses. This is as true in the moral and social relations of private
life as in public transactions. Those whose opinions go by the name of
public opinion, are not always the same sort of public: in America they
are the whole white population; in England, chiefly the middle class.
But they are always a mass, that is to say, collective mediocrity. And
what is a still greater novelty, the mass do not now take their opinions
from dignitaries in Church or State, from ostensible leaders, or from
books. Their thinking is done for them by men much like themselves,
addressing them or speaking in their name, on the spur of the moment,
through the newspapers. I am not complaining of all this. I do not
assert that anything better is compatible, as a general rule, with the
present low state of the human mind. But that does not hinder the
government of mediocrity from being mediocre government. No government
by a democracy or a numerous aristocracy, either in its political acts
or in the opinions, qualities, and tone of mind which it fosters, ever
did or could rise above mediocrity, except in so far as the sovereign
Many have let themselves be guided (which in their best times they
always have done) by the counsels and influence of a more highly gifted
and instructed One or Few. The initiation of all wise or noble things,
comes and must come from individuals; generally at first from some one
individual. The honour and glory of the average man is that he is
capable of following that initiative; that he can respond internally to
wise and noble things, and be led to them with his eyes open. I am not
countenancing the sort of "hero-worship" which applauds the strong man
of genius for forcibly seizing on the government of the world and making
it do his bidding in spite of itself. All he can claim is, freedom to
point out the way. The power of compelling others into it, is not only
inconsistent with the freedom and development of all the rest, but
corrupting to the strong man himself. It does seem, however, that when
the opinions of masses of merely average men are everywhere become or
becoming the dominant power, the counterpoise and corrective to that
tendency would be, the more and more pronounced individuality of those
who stand on the higher eminences of thought. It is in these
circumstances most especially, that exceptional individuals, instead of
being deterred, should be encouraged in acting differently from the
mass. In other times there was no advantage in their doing so, unless
they acted not only differently, but better. In this age the mere
example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom,
is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as
to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break
through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has
always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and
the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional
to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it
contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger
of the time.

I have said that it is important to give the freest scope possible to
uncustomary things, in order that it may in time appear which of these
are fit to be converted into customs. But independence of action, and
disregard of custom are not solely deserving of encouragement for the
chance they afford that better modes of action, and customs more worthy
of general adoption, may be struck out; nor is it only persons of
decided mental superiority who have a just claim to carry on their lives
in their own way. There is no reason that all human existences should be
constructed on some one, or some small number of patterns. If a person
possesses any tolerable amount of common-sense and experience, his own
mode of laying out his existence is the best, not because it is the best
in itself, but because it is his own mode. Human beings are not like
sheep; and even sheep are not undistinguishably alike. A man cannot get
a coat or a pair of boots to fit him, unless they are either made to his
measure, or he has a whole warehouseful to choose from: and is it easier
to fit him with a life than with a coat, or are human beings more like
one another in their whole physical and spiritual conformation than in
the shape of their feet? If it were only that people have diversities of
taste, that is reason enough for not attempting to shape them all after
one model. But different persons also require different conditions for
their spiritual development; and can no more exist healthily in the same
moral, than all the variety of plants can in the same physical,
atmosphere and climate. The same things which are helps to one person
towards the cultivation of his higher nature, are hindrances to another.
The same mode of life is a healthy excitement to one, keeping all his
faculties of action and enjoyment in their best order, while to another
it is a distracting burthen, which suspends or crushes all internal
life. Such are the differences among human beings in their sources of
pleasure, their susceptibilities of pain, and the operation on them of
different physical and moral agencies, that unless there is a
corresponding diversity in their modes of life, they neither obtain
their fair share of happiness, nor grow up to the mental, moral, and
aesthetic stature of which their nature is capable. Why then should
tolerance, as far as the public sentiment is concerned, extend only to
tastes and modes of life which extort acquiescence by the multitude of
their adherents? Nowhere (except in some monastic institutions) is
diversity of taste entirely unrecognised; a person may, without blame,
either like or dislike rowing, or smoking, or music, or athletic
exercises, or chess, or cards, or study, because both those who like
each of these things, and those who dislike them, are too numerous to be
put down. But the man, and still more the woman, who can be accused
either of doing "what nobody does," or of not doing "what everybody
does," is the subject of as much depreciatory remark as if he or she had
committed some grave moral delinquency. Persons require to possess a
title, or some other badge of rank, or of the consideration of people of
rank, to be able to indulge somewhat in the luxury of doing as they like
without detriment to their estimation. To indulge somewhat, I repeat:
for whoever allow themselves much of that indulgence, incur the risk of
something worse than disparaging speeches--they are in peril of a
commission _de lunatico_, and of having their property taken from them
and given to their relations.[13]

There is one characteristic of the present direction of public opinion,
peculiarly calculated to make it intolerant of any marked demonstration
of individuality. The general average of mankind are not only moderate
in intellect, but also moderate in inclinations: they have no tastes or
wishes strong enough to incline them to do anything unusual, and they
consequently do not understand those who have, and class all such with
the wild and intemperate whom they are accustomed to look down upon.
Now, in addition to this fact which is general, we have only to suppose
that a strong movement has set in towards the improvement of morals,
and it is evident what we have to expect. In these days such a movement
has set in; much has actually been effected in the way of increased
regularity of conduct, and discouragement of excesses; and there is a
philanthropic spirit abroad, for the exercise of which there is no more
inviting field than the moral and prudential improvement of our
fellow-creatures. These tendencies of the times cause the public to be
more disposed than at most former periods to prescribe general rules of
conduct, and endeavour to make every one conform to the approved
standard. And that standard, express or tacit, is to desire nothing
strongly. Its ideal of character is to be without any marked character;
to maim by compression, like a Chinese lady's foot, every part of human
nature which stands out prominently, and tends to make the person
markedly dissimilar in outline to commonplace humanity.

As is usually the case with ideals which exclude one-half of what is
desirable, the present standard of approbation produces only an inferior
imitation of the other half. Instead of great energies guided by
vigorous reason, and strong feelings strongly controlled by a
conscientious will, its result is weak feelings and weak energies, which
therefore can be kept in outward conformity to rule without any strength
either of will or of reason. Already energetic characters on any large
scale are becoming merely traditional. There is now scarcely any outlet
for energy in this country except business. The energy expended in that
may still be regarded as considerable. What little is left from that
employment, is expended on some hobby; which may be a useful, even a
philanthropic hobby, but is always some one thing, and generally a thing
of small dimensions. The greatness of England is now all collective:
individually small, we only appear capable of anything great by our
habit of combining; and with this our moral and religious
philanthropists are perfectly contented. But it was men of another
stamp than this that made England what it has been; and men of another
stamp will be needed to prevent its decline.

The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human
advancement, being in unceasing antagonism to that disposition to aim at
something better than customary, which is called, according to
circumstances, the spirit of liberty, or that of progress or
improvement. The spirit of improvement is not always a spirit of
liberty, for it may aim at forcing improvements on an unwilling people;
and the spirit of liberty, in so far as it resists such attempts, may
ally itself locally and temporarily with the opponents of improvement;
but the only unfailing and permanent source of improvement is liberty,
since by it there are as many possible independent centres of
improvement as there are individuals. The progressive principle,
however, in either shape, whether as the love of liberty or of
improvement, is antagonistic to the sway of Custom, involving at least
emancipation from that yoke; and the contest between the two constitutes
the chief interest of the history of mankind. The greater part of the
world has, properly speaking, no history, because the despotism of
Custom is complete. This is the case over the whole East. Custom is
there, in all things, the final appeal; justice and right mean
conformity to custom; the argument of custom no one, unless some tyrant
intoxicated with power, thinks of resisting. And we see the result.
Those nations must once have had originality; they did not start out of
the ground populous, lettered, and versed in many of the arts of life;
they made themselves all this, and were then the greatest and most
powerful nations in the world. What are they now? The subjects or
dependants of tribes whose forefathers wandered in the forests when
theirs had magnificent palaces and gorgeous temples, but over whom
custom exercised only a divided rule with liberty and progress. A
people, it appears, may be progressive for a certain length of time, and
then stop: when does it stop? When it ceases to possess individuality.
If a similar change should befall the nations of Europe, it will not be
in exactly the same shape: the despotism of custom with which these
nations are threatened is not precisely stationariness. It proscribes
singularity, but it does not preclude change, provided all change
together. We have discarded the fixed costumes of our forefathers; every
one must still dress like other people, but the fashion may change once
or twice a year. We thus take care that when there is change, it shall
be for change's sake, and not from any idea of beauty or convenience;
for the same idea of beauty or convenience would not strike all the
world at the same moment, and be simultaneously thrown aside by all at
another moment. But we are progressive as well as changeable: we
continually make new inventions in mechanical things, and keep them
until they are again superseded by better; we are eager for improvement
in politics, in education, even in morals, though in this last our idea
of improvement chiefly consists in persuading or forcing other people to
be as good as ourselves. It is not progress that we object to; on the
contrary, we flatter ourselves that we are the most progressive people
who ever lived. It is individuality that we war against: we should think
we had done wonders if we had made ourselves all alike; forgetting that
the unlikeness of one person to another is generally the first thing
which draws the attention of either to the imperfection of his own type,
and the superiority of another, or the possibility, by combining the
advantages of both, of producing something better than either. We have a
warning example in China--a nation of much talent, and, in some
respects, even wisdom, owing to the rare good fortune of having been
provided at an early period with a particularly good set of customs, the
work, in some measure, of men to whom even the most enlightened European
must accord, under certain limitations, the title of sages and
philosophers. They are remarkable, too, in the excellence of their
apparatus for impressing, as far as possible, the best wisdom they
possess upon every mind in the community, and securing that those who
have appropriated most of it shall occupy the posts of honour and power.
Surely the people who did this have discovered the secret of human
progressiveness, and must have kept themselves steadily at the head of
the movement of the world. On the contrary, they have become
stationary--have remained so for thousands of years; and if they are
ever to be farther improved, it must be by foreigners. They have
succeeded beyond all hope in what English philanthropists are so
industriously working at--in making a people all alike, all governing
their thoughts and conduct by the same maxims and rules; and these are
the fruits. The modern _régime_ of public opinion is, in an unorganised
form, what the Chinese educational and political systems are in an
organised; and unless individuality shall be able successfully to assert
itself against this yoke, Europe, notwithstanding its noble antecedents
and its professed Christianity, will tend to become another China.

What is it that has hitherto preserved Europe from this lot? What has
made the European family of nations an improving, instead of a
stationary portion of mankind? Not any superior excellence in them,
which, when it exists, exists as the effect, not as the cause; but their
remarkable diversity of character and culture. Individuals, classes,
nations, have been extremely unlike one another: they have struck out a
great variety of paths, each leading to something valuable; and although
at every period those who travelled in different paths have been
intolerant of one another, and each would have thought it an excellent
thing if all the rest could have been compelled to travel his road,
their attempts to thwart each other's development have rarely had any
permanent success, and each has in time endured to receive the good
which the others have offered. Europe is, in my judgment, wholly
indebted to this plurality of paths for its progressive and many-sided
development. But it already begins to possess this benefit in a
considerably less degree. It is decidedly advancing towards the Chinese
ideal of making all people alike. M. de Tocqueville, in his last
important work, remarks how much more the Frenchmen of the present day
resemble one another, than did those even of the last generation. The
same remark might be made of Englishmen in a far greater degree. In a
passage already quoted from Wilhelm von Humboldt, he points out two
things as necessary conditions of human development, because necessary
to render people unlike one another; namely, freedom, and variety of
situations. The second of these two conditions is in this country every
day diminishing. The circumstances which surround different classes and
individuals, and shape their characters, are daily becoming more
assimilated. Formerly, different ranks, different neighbourhoods,
different trades and professions, lived in what might be called
different worlds; at present, to a great degree in the same.
Comparatively speaking, they now read the same things, listen to the
same things, see the same things, go to the same places, have their
hopes and fears directed to the same objects, have the same rights and
liberties, and the same means of asserting them. Great as are the
differences of position which remain, they are nothing to those which
have ceased. And the assimilation is still proceeding. All the political
changes of the age promote it, since they all tend to raise the low and
to lower the high. Every extension of education promotes it, because
education brings people under common influences, and gives them access
to the general stock of facts and sentiments. Improvements in the means
of communication promote it, by bringing the inhabitants of distant
places into personal contact, and keeping up a rapid flow of changes of
residence between one place and another. The increase of commerce and
manufactures promotes it, by diffusing more widely the advantages of
easy circumstances, and opening all objects of ambition, even the
highest, to general competition, whereby the desire of rising becomes no
longer the character of a particular class, but of all classes. A more
powerful agency than even all these, in bringing about a general
similarity among mankind, is the complete establishment, in this and
other free countries, of the ascendency of public opinion in the State.
As the various social eminences which enabled persons entrenched on them
to disregard the opinion of the multitude, gradually become levelled; as
the very idea of resisting the will of the public, when it is positively
known that they have a will, disappears more and more from the minds of
practical politicians; there ceases to be any social support for
non-conformity--any substantive power in society, which, itself opposed
to the ascendency of numbers, is interested in taking under its
protection opinions and tendencies at variance with those of the public.

The combination of all these causes forms so great a mass of influences
hostile to Individuality, that it is not easy to see how it can stand
its ground. It will do so with increasing difficulty, unless the
intelligent part of the public can be made to feel its value--to see
that it is good there should be differences, even though not for the
better, even though, as it may appear to them, some should be for the
worse. If the claims of Individuality are ever to be asserted, the time
is now, while much is still wanting to complete the enforced
assimilation. It is only in the earlier stages that any stand can be
successfully made against the encroachment. The demand that all other
people shall resemble ourselves, grows by what it feeds on. If
resistance waits till life is reduced _nearly_ to one uniform type, all
deviations from that type will come to be considered impious, immoral,
even monstrous and contrary to nature. Mankind speedily become unable to
conceive diversity, when they have been for some time unaccustomed to
see it.


[11] _The Sphere and Duties of Government_, from the German of Baron
Wilhelm von Humboldt, pp. 11-13.

[12] Sterling's _Essays_.

[13] There is something both contemptible and frightful in the sort of
evidence on which, of late years, any person can be judicially declared
unfit for the management of his affairs; and after his death, his
disposal of his property can be set aside, if there is enough of it to
pay the expenses of litigation--which are charged on the property
itself. All the minute details of his daily life are pried into, and
whatever is found which, seen through the medium of the perceiving and
describing faculties of the lowest of the low, bears an appearance
unlike absolute commonplace, is laid before the jury as evidence of
insanity, and often with success; the jurors being little, if at all,
less vulgar and ignorant than the witnesses; while the judges, with that
extraordinary want of knowledge of human nature and life which
continually astonishes us in English lawyers, often help to mislead
them. These trials speak volumes as to the state of feeling and opinion
among the vulgar with regard to human liberty. So far from setting any
value on individuality--so far from respecting the rights of each
individual to act, in things indifferent, as seems good to his own
judgment and inclinations, judges and juries cannot even conceive that a
person in a state of sanity can desire such freedom. In former days,
when it was proposed to burn atheists, charitable people used to suggest
putting them in a madhouse instead: it would be nothing surprising
nowadays were we to see this done, and the doers applauding themselves,
because, instead of persecuting for religion, they had adopted so humane
and Christian a mode of treating these unfortunates, not without a
silent satisfaction at their having thereby obtained their deserts.



What, then, is the rightful limit to the sovereignty of the individual
over himself? Where does the authority of society begin? How much of
human life should be assigned to individuality, and how much to society?

Each will receive its proper share, if each has that which more
particularly concerns it. To individuality should belong the part of
life in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested; to
society, the part which chiefly interests society.

Though society is not founded on a contract, and though no good purpose
is answered by inventing a contract in order to deduce social
obligations from it, every one who receives the protection of society
owes a return for the benefit, and the fact of living in society renders
it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of
conduct towards the rest. This conduct consists, first, in not injuring
the interests of one another; or rather certain interests which, either
by express legal provision or by tacit understanding, ought to be
considered as rights; and secondly, in each person's bearing his share
(to be fixed on some equitable principle) of the labours and sacrifices
incurred for defending the society or its members from injury and
molestation. These conditions society is justified in enforcing, at all
costs to those who endeavour to withhold fulfilment. Nor is this all
that society may do. The acts of an individual may be hurtful to others,
or wanting in due consideration for their welfare, without going the
length of violating any of their constituted rights. The offender may
then be justly punished by opinion though not by law. 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. But there is no room for entertaining any
such question when a person's conduct affects the interests of no
persons besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they like (all
the persons concerned being of full age, and the ordinary amount of
understanding). In all such cases there should be perfect freedom, legal
and social, to do the action and stand the consequences.

It would be a great misunderstanding of this doctrine, to suppose that
it is one of selfish indifference, which pretends that human beings have
no business with each other's conduct in life, and that they should not
concern themselves about the well-doing or well-being of one another,
unless their own interest is involved. Instead of any diminution, there
is need of a great increase of disinterested exertion to promote the
good of others. But disinterested benevolence can find other instruments
to persuade people to their good, than whips and scourges, either of the
literal or the metaphorical sort. I am the last person to undervalue the
self-regarding virtues; they are only second in importance, if even
second, to the social. It is equally the business of education to
cultivate both. But even education works by conviction and persuasion as
well as by compulsion, and it is by the former only that, when the
period of education is past, the self-regarding virtues should be
inculcated. Human beings owe to each other help to distinguish the
better from the worse, and encouragement to choose the former and avoid
the latter. They should be for ever stimulating each other to increased
exercise of their higher faculties, and increased direction of their
feelings and aims towards wise instead of foolish, elevating instead of
degrading, objects and contemplations. But neither one person, nor any
number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of
ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what
he chooses to do with it. He is the person most interested in his own
well-being: the interest which any other person, except in cases of
strong personal attachment, can have in it, is trifling, compared with
that which he himself has; the interest which society has in him
individually (except as to his conduct to others) is fractional, and
altogether indirect: while, with respect to his own feelings and
circumstances, the most ordinary man or woman has means of knowledge
immeasurably surpassing those that can be possessed by any one else. The
interference of society to overrule his judgment and purposes in what
only regards himself, must be grounded on general presumptions; which
may be altogether wrong, and even if right, are as likely as not to be
misapplied to individual cases, by persons no better acquainted with the
circumstances of such cases than those are who look at them merely from
without. In this department, therefore, of human affairs, Individuality
has its proper field of action. In the conduct of human beings towards
one another, it is necessary that general rules should for the most part
be observed, in order that people may know what they have to expect; but
in each person's own concerns, his individual spontaneity is entitled to
free exercise. Considerations to aid his judgment, exhortations to
strengthen his will, may be offered to him, even obtruded on him, by
others; but he himself is the final judge. All errors which he is likely
to commit against advice and warning, are far outweighed by the evil of
allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good.

I do not mean that the feelings with which a person is regarded by
others, ought not to be in any way affected by his self-regarding
qualities or deficiencies. This is neither possible nor desirable. If he
is eminent in any of the qualities which conduce to his own good, he is,
so far, a proper object of admiration. He is so much the nearer to the
ideal perfection of human nature. If he is grossly deficient in those
qualities, a sentiment the opposite of admiration will follow. There is
a degree of folly, and a degree of what may be called (though the
phrase is not unobjectionable) lowness or depravation of taste, which,
though it cannot justify doing harm to the person who manifests it,
renders him necessarily and properly a subject of distaste, or, in
extreme cases, even of contempt: a person could not have the opposite
qualities in due strength without entertaining these feelings. Though
doing no wrong to any one, a person may so act as to compel us to judge
him, and feel to him, as a fool, or as a being of an inferior order: and
since this judgment and feeling are a fact which he would prefer to
avoid, it is doing him a service to warn him of it beforehand, as of any
other disagreeable consequence to which he exposes himself. It would be
well, indeed, if this good office were much more freely rendered than
the common notions of politeness at present permit, and if one person
could honestly point out to another that he thinks him in fault, without
being considered unmannerly or presuming. We have a right, also, in
various ways, to act upon our unfavourable opinion of any one, not to
the oppression of his individuality, but in the exercise of ours. We are
not bound, for example, to seek his society; we have a right to avoid it
(though not to parade the avoidance), for we have a right to choose the
society most acceptable to us. We have a right, and it may be our duty,
to caution others against him, if we think his example or conversation
likely to have a pernicious effect on those with whom he associates. We
may give others a preference over him in optional good offices, except
those which tend to his improvement. In these various modes a person may
suffer very severe penalties at the hands of others, for faults which
directly concern only himself; but he suffers these penalties only in so
far as they are the natural, and, as it were, the spontaneous
consequences of the faults themselves, not because they are purposely
inflicted on him for the sake of punishment. A person who shows
rashness, obstinacy, self-conceit--who cannot live within moderate
means--who cannot restrain himself from hurtful indulgences--who pursues
animal pleasures at the expense of those of feeling and intellect--must
expect to be lowered in the opinion of others, and to have a less share
of their favourable sentiments; but of this he has no right to complain,
unless he has merited their favour by special excellence in his social
relations, and has thus established a title to their good offices, which
is not affected by his demerits towards himself.

What I contend for is, that the inconveniences which are strictly
inseparable from the unfavourable judgment of others, are the only ones
to which a person should ever be subjected for that portion of his
conduct and character which concerns his own good, but which does not
affect the interests of others in their relations with him. Acts
injurious to others require a totally different treatment. Encroachment
on their rights; infliction on them of any loss or damage not justified
by his own rights; falsehood or duplicity in dealing with them; unfair
or ungenerous use of advantages over them; even selfish abstinence from
defending them against injury--these are fit objects of moral
reprobation, and, in grave cases, of moral retribution and punishment.
And not only these acts, but the dispositions which lead to them, are
properly immoral, and fit subjects of disapprobation which may rise to
abhorrence. Cruelty of disposition; malice and ill-nature; that most
anti-social and odious of all passions, envy; dissimulation and
insincerity; irascibility on insufficient cause, and resentment
disproportioned to the provocation; the love of domineering over others;
the desire to engross more than one's share of advantages (the [Greek:
pleonexia] of the Greeks); the pride which derives gratification from
the abasement of others; the egotism which thinks self and its concerns
more important than everything else, and decides all doubtful questions
in its own favour;--these are moral vices, and constitute a bad and
odious moral character: unlike the self-regarding faults previously
mentioned, which are not properly immoralities, and to whatever pitch
they may be carried, do not constitute wickedness. They may be proofs of
any amount of folly, or want of personal dignity and self-respect; but
they are only a subject of moral reprobation when they involve a breach
of duty to others, for whose sake the individual is bound to have care
for himself. What are called duties to ourselves are not socially
obligatory, unless circumstances render them at the same time duties to
others. The term duty to oneself, when it means anything more than
prudence, means self-respect or self-development; and for none of these
is any one accountable to his fellow-creatures, because for none of them
is it for the good of mankind that he be held accountable to them.

The distinction between the loss of consideration which a person may
rightly incur by defect of prudence or of personal dignity, and the
reprobation which is due to him for an offence against the rights of
others, is not a merely nominal distinction. It makes a vast difference
both in our feelings and in our conduct towards him, whether he
displeases us in things in which we think we have a right to control
him, or in things in which we know that we have not. If he displeases
us, we may express our distaste, and we may stand aloof from a person as
well as from a thing that displeases us; but we shall not therefore feel
called on to make his life uncomfortable. We shall reflect that he
already bears, or will bear, the whole penalty of his error; if he
spoils his life by mismanagement, we shall not, for that reason, desire
to spoil it still further: instead of wishing to punish him, we shall
rather endeavour to alleviate his punishment, by showing him how he may
avoid or cure the evils his conduct tends to bring upon him. He may be
to us an object of pity, perhaps of dislike, but not of anger or
resentment; we shall not treat him like an enemy of society: the worst
we shall think ourselves justified in doing is leaving him to himself,
if we do not interfere benevolently by showing interest or concern for
him. It is far otherwise if he has infringed the rules necessary for the
protection of his fellow-creatures, individually or collectively. The
evil consequences of his acts do not then fall on himself, but on
others; and society, as the protector of all its members, must retaliate
on him; must inflict pain on him for the express purpose of punishment,
and must take care that it be sufficiently severe. In the one case, he
is an offender at our bar, and we are called on not only to sit in
judgment on him, but, in one shape or another, to execute our own
sentence: in the other case, it is not our part to inflict any suffering
on him, except what may incidentally follow from our using the same
liberty in the regulation of our own affairs, which we allow to him in

The distinction here pointed out between the part of a person's life
which concerns only himself, and that which concerns others, many
persons will refuse to admit. How (it may be asked) can any part of the
conduct of a member of society be a matter of indifference to the other
members? 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 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.

And even (it will be added) if the consequences of misconduct could be
confined to the vicious or thoughtless individual, ought society to
abandon to their own guidance those who are manifestly unfit for it? If
protection against themselves is confessedly due to children and persons
under age, is not society equally bound to afford it to persons of
mature years who are equally incapable of self-government? If gambling,
or drunkenness, or incontinence, or idleness, or uncleanliness, are as
injurious to happiness, and as great a hindrance to improvement, as many
or most of the acts prohibited by law, why (it may be asked) should not
law, so far as is consistent with practicability and social convenience,
endeavour to repress these also? And as a supplement to the unavoidable
imperfections of law, ought not opinion at least to organise a powerful
police against these vices, and visit rigidly with social penalties
those who are known to practise them? There is no question here (it may
be said) about restricting individuality, or impeding the trial of new
and original experiments in living. The only things it is sought to
prevent are things which have been tried and condemned from the
beginning of the world until now; things which experience has shown not
to be useful or suitable to any person's individuality. There must be
some length of time and amount of experience, after which a moral or
prudential truth may be regarded as established: and it is merely
desired to prevent generation after generation from falling over the
same precipice which has been fatal to their predecessors.

I fully admit that the mischief which a person does to himself, may
seriously affect, both through their sympathies and their interests,
those nearly connected with him, and in a minor degree, society at
large. When, by conduct of this sort, a person is led to violate a
distinct and assignable obligation to any other person or persons, the
case is taken out of the self-regarding class, and becomes amenable to
moral disapprobation in the proper sense of the term. If, for example,
a man, through intemperance or extravagance, becomes unable to pay his
debts, or, having undertaken the moral responsibility of a family,
becomes from the same cause incapable of supporting or educating them,
he is deservedly reprobated, and might be justly punished; but it is for
the breach of duty to his family or creditors, not for the extravagance.
If the resources which ought to have been devoted to them, had been
diverted from them for the most prudent investment, the moral
culpability would have been the same. George Barnwell murdered his uncle
to get money for his mistress, but if he had done it to set himself up
in business, he would equally have been hanged. Again, in the frequent
case of a man who causes grief to his family by addiction to bad habits,
he deserves reproach for his unkindness or ingratitude; but so he may
for cultivating habits not in themselves vicious, if they are painful to
those with whom he passes his life, or who from personal ties are
dependent on him for their comfort. Whoever fails in the consideration
generally due to the interests and feelings of others, not being
compelled by some more imperative duty, or justified by allowable
self-preference, is a subject of moral disapprobation for that failure,
but not for the cause of it, nor for the errors, merely personal to
himself, which may have remotely led to it. In like manner, when a
person disables himself, by conduct purely self-regarding, from the
performance of some definite duty incumbent on him to the public, he is
guilty of a social offence. No person ought to be punished simply for
being drunk; but a soldier or a policeman should be punished for being
drunk on duty. Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, or a
definite risk of damage, either to an individual or to the public, the
case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of
morality or law.

But with regard to the merely contingent, or, as it may be called,
constructive injury which a person causes to society, by conduct which
neither violates any specific duty to the public, nor occasions
perceptible hurt to any assignable individual except himself; the
inconvenience is one which society can afford to bear, for the sake of
the greater good of human freedom. If grown persons are to be punished
for not taking proper care of themselves, I would rather it were for
their own sake, than under pretence of preventing them from impairing
their capacity of rendering to society benefits which society does not
pretend it has a right to exact. But I cannot consent to argue the
point as if society had no means of bringing its weaker members up to
its ordinary standard of rational conduct, except waiting till they do
something irrational, and then punishing them, legally or morally, for
it. Society has had absolute power over them during all the early
portion of their existence: it has had the whole period of childhood and
nonage in which to try whether it could make them capable of rational
conduct in life. The existing generation is master both of the training
and the entire circumstances of the generation to come; it cannot indeed
make them perfectly wise and good, because it is itself so lamentably
deficient in goodness and wisdom; and its best efforts are not always,
in individual cases, its most successful ones; but it is perfectly well
able to make the rising generation, as a whole, as good as, and a little
better than, itself. If society lets any considerable number of its
members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational
consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the
consequences. Armed not only with all the powers of education, but with
the ascendency which the authority of a received opinion always
exercises over the minds who are least fitted to judge for themselves;
and aided by the _natural_ penalties which cannot be prevented from
falling on those who incur the distaste or the contempt of those who
know them; let not society pretend that it needs, besides all this, the
power to issue commands and enforce obedience in the personal concerns
of individuals, in which, on all principles of justice and policy, the
decision ought to rest with those who are to abide the consequences. Nor
is there anything which tends more to discredit and frustrate the better
means of influencing conduct, than a resort to the worse. If there be
among those whom it is attempted to coerce into prudence or temperance,
any of the material of which vigorous and independent characters are
made, they will infallibly rebel against the yoke. No such person will
ever feel that others have a right to control him in his concerns, such
as they have to prevent him from injuring them in theirs; and it easily
comes to be considered a mark of spirit and courage to fly in the face
of such usurped authority, and do with ostentation the exact opposite of
what it enjoins; as in the fashion of grossness which succeeded, in the
time of Charles II., to the fanatical moral intolerance of the Puritans.
With respect to what is said of the necessity of protecting society
from the bad example set to others by the vicious or the
self-indulgent; it is true that bad example may have a pernicious
effect, especially the example of doing wrong to others with impunity to
the wrong-doer. But we are now speaking of conduct which, while it does
no wrong to others, is supposed to do great harm to the agent himself:
and I do not see how those who believe this, can think otherwise than
that the example, on the whole, must be more salutary than hurtful,
since, if it displays the misconduct, it displays also the painful or
degrading consequences which, if the conduct is justly censured, must be
supposed to be in all or most cases attendant on it.

But the strongest of all the arguments against the interference of the
public with purely personal conduct, is that when it does interfere, the
odds are that it interferes wrongly, and in the wrong place. On
questions of social morality, of duty to others, the opinion of the
public, that is, of an overruling majority, though often wrong, is
likely to be still oftener right; because on such questions they are
only required to judge of their own interests; of the manner in which
some mode of conduct, if allowed to be practised, would affect
themselves. But the opinion of a similar majority, imposed as a law on
the minority, on questions of self-regarding conduct, is quite as
likely to be wrong as right; for in these cases public opinion means, at
the best, some people's opinion of what is good or bad for other people;
while very often it does not even mean that; the public, with the most
perfect indifference, passing over the pleasure or convenience of those
whose conduct they censure, and considering only their own preference.
There are many who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct which
they have a distaste for, and resent it as an outrage to their feelings;
as a religious bigot, when charged with disregarding the religious
feelings of others, has been known to retort that they disregard his
feelings, by persisting in their abominable worship or creed. But there
is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and
the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than
between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the
right owner to keep it. And a person's taste is as much his own peculiar
concern as his opinion or his purse. It is easy for any one to imagine
an ideal public, which leaves the freedom and choice of individuals in
all uncertain matters undisturbed, and only requires them to abstain
from modes of conduct which universal experience has condemned. But
where has there been seen a public which set any such limit to its
censorship? or when does the public trouble itself about universal
experience? In its interferences with personal conduct it is seldom
thinking of anything but the enormity of acting or feeling differently
from itself; and this standard of judgment, thinly disguised, is held up
to mankind as the dictate of religion and philosophy, by nine-tenths of
all moralists and speculative writers. These teach that things are right
because they are right; because we feel them to be so. They tell us to
search in our own minds and hearts for laws of conduct binding on
ourselves and on all others. What can the poor public do but apply these
instructions, and make their own personal feelings of good and evil, if
they are tolerably unanimous in them, obligatory on all the world?

The evil here pointed out is not one which exists only in theory; and it
may perhaps be expected that I should specify the instances in which the
public of this age and country improperly invests its own preferences
with the character of moral laws. I am not writing an essay on the
aberrations of existing moral feeling. That is too weighty a subject to
be discussed parenthetically, and by way of illustration. Yet examples
are necessary, to show that the principle I maintain is of serious and
practical moment, and that I am not endeavouring to erect a barrier
against imaginary evils. And it is not difficult to show, by abundant
instances, that to extend the bounds of what may be called moral police,
until it encroaches on the most unquestionably legitimate liberty of the
individual, is one of the most universal of all human propensities.

As a first instance, consider the antipathies which men cherish on no
better grounds than that persons whose religious opinions are different
from theirs, do not practise their religious observances, especially
their religious abstinences. To cite a rather trivial example, nothing
in the creed or practice of Christians does more to envenom the hatred
of Mahomedans against them, than the fact of their eating pork. There
are few acts which Christians and Europeans regard with more unaffected
disgust, than Mussulmans regard this particular mode of satisfying
hunger. It is, in the first place, an offence against their religion;
but this circumstance by no means explains either the degree or the kind
of their repugnance; for wine also is forbidden by their religion, and
to partake of it is by all Mussulmans accounted wrong, but not
disgusting. Their aversion to the flesh of the "unclean beast" is, on
the contrary, of that peculiar character, resembling an instinctive
antipathy, which the idea of uncleanness, when once it thoroughly sinks
into the feelings, seems always to excite even in those whose personal
habits are anything but scrupulously cleanly, and of which the sentiment
of religious impurity, so intense in the Hindoos, is a remarkable
example. Suppose now that in a people, of whom the majority were
Mussulmans, that majority should insist upon not permitting pork to be
eaten within the limits of the country. This would be nothing new in
Mahomedan countries.[14] Would it be a legitimate exercise of the moral
authority of public opinion? and if not, why not? The practice is really
revolting to such a public. They also sincerely think that it is
forbidden and abhorred by the Deity. Neither could the prohibition be
censured as religious persecution. It might be religious in its origin,
but it would not be persecution for religion, since nobody's religion
makes it a duty to eat pork. The only tenable ground of condemnation
would be, that with the personal tastes and self-regarding concerns of
individuals the public has no business to interfere.

To come somewhat nearer home: the majority of Spaniards consider it a
gross impiety, offensive in the highest degree to the Supreme Being, to
worship him in any other manner than the Roman Catholic; and no other
public worship is lawful on Spanish soil. The people of all Southern
Europe look upon a married clergy as not only irreligious, but unchaste,
indecent, gross, disgusting. What do Protestants think of these
perfectly sincere feelings, and of the attempt to enforce them against
non-Catholics? Yet, if mankind are justified in interfering with each
other's liberty in things which do not concern the interests of others,
on what principle is it possible consistently to exclude these cases? or
who can blame people for desiring to suppress what they regard as a
scandal in the sight of God and man? No stronger case can be shown for
prohibiting anything which is regarded as a personal immorality, than
is made out for suppressing these practices in the eyes of those who
regard them as impieties; and unless we are willing to adopt the logic
of persecutors, and to say that we may persecute others because we are
right, and that they must not persecute us because they are wrong, we
must beware of admitting a principle of which we should resent as a
gross injustice the application to ourselves.

The preceding instances may be objected to, although unreasonably, as
drawn from contingencies impossible among us: opinion, in this country,
not being likely to enforce abstinence from meats, or to interfere with
people for worshipping, and for either marrying or not marrying,
according to their creed or inclination. The next example, however,
shall be taken from an interference with liberty which we have by no
means passed all danger of. Wherever the Puritans have been sufficiently
powerful, as in New England, and in Great Britain at the time of the
Commonwealth, they have endeavoured, with considerable success, to put
down all public, and nearly all private, amusements: especially music,
dancing, public games, or other assemblages for purposes of diversion,
and the theatre. There are still in this country large bodies of
persons by whose notions of morality and religion these recreations are
condemned; and those persons belonging chiefly to the middle class, who
are the ascendant power in the present social and political condition of
the kingdom, it is by no means impossible that persons of these
sentiments may at some time or other command a majority in Parliament.
How will the remaining portion of the community like to have the
amusements that shall be permitted to them regulated by the religious
and moral sentiments of the stricter Calvinists and Methodists? Would
they not, with considerable peremptoriness, desire these intrusively
pious members of society to mind their own business? This is precisely
what should be said to every government and every public, who have the
pretension that no person shall enjoy any pleasure which they think
wrong. But if the principle of the pretension be admitted, no one can
reasonably object to its being acted on in the sense of the majority, or
other preponderating power in the country; and all persons must be ready
to conform to the idea of a Christian commonwealth, as understood by the
early settlers in New England, if a religious profession similar to
theirs should ever succeed in regaining its lost ground, as religions
supposed to be declining have so often been known to do.

To imagine another contingency, perhaps more likely to be realised than
the one last mentioned. There is confessedly a strong tendency in the
modern world towards a democratic constitution of society, accompanied
or not by popular political institutions. It is affirmed that in the
country where this tendency is most completely realised--where both
society and the government are most democratic--the United States--the
feeling of the majority, to whom any appearance of a more showy or
costly style of living than they can hope to rival is disagreeable,
operates as a tolerably effectual sumptuary law, and that in many parts
of the Union it is really difficult for a person possessing a very large
income, to find any mode of spending it, which will not incur popular
disapprobation. Though such statements as these are doubtless much
exaggerated as a representation of existing facts, the state of things
they describe is not only a conceivable and possible, but a probable
result of democratic feeling, combined with the notion that the public
has a right to a veto on the manner in which individuals shall spend
their incomes. We have only further to suppose a considerable diffusion
of Socialist opinions, and it may become infamous in the eyes of the
majority to possess more property than some very small amount, or any
income not earned by manual labour. Opinions similar in principle to
these, already prevail widely among the artisan class, and weigh
oppressively on those who are amenable to the opinion chiefly of that
class, namely, its own members. It is known that the bad workmen who
form the majority of the operatives in many branches of industry, are
decidedly of opinion that bad workmen ought to receive the same wages as
good, and that no one ought to be allowed, through piecework or
otherwise, to earn by superior skill or industry more than others can
without it. And they employ a moral police, which occasionally becomes a
physical one, to deter skilful workmen from receiving, and employers
from giving, a larger remuneration for a more useful service. If the
public have any jurisdiction over private concerns, I cannot see that
these people are in fault, or that any individual's particular public
can be blamed for asserting the same authority over his individual
conduct, which the general public asserts over people in general.

But, without dwelling upon supposititious cases, there are, in our own
day, gross usurpations upon the liberty of private life actually
practised, and still greater ones threatened with some expectation of
success, and opinions proposed which assert an unlimited right in the
public not only to prohibit by law everything which it thinks wrong, but
in order to get at what it thinks wrong, to prohibit any number of
things which it admits to be innocent.

Under the name of preventing intemperance, the people of one English
colony, and of nearly half the United States, have been interdicted by
law from making any use whatever of fermented drinks, except for medical
purposes: for prohibition of their sale is in fact, as it is intended to
be, prohibition of their use. And though the impracticability of
executing the law has caused its repeal in several of the States which
had adopted it, including the one from which it derives its name, an
attempt has notwithstanding been commenced, and is prosecuted with
considerable zeal by many of the professed philanthropists, to agitate
for a similar law in this country. The association, or "Alliance" as it
terms itself, which has been formed for this purpose, has acquired some
notoriety through the publicity given to a correspondence between its
Secretary and one of the very few English public men who hold that a
politician's opinions ought to be founded on principles. Lord Stanley's
share in this correspondence is calculated to strengthen the hopes
already built on him, by those who know how rare such qualities as are
manifested in some of his public appearances, unhappily are among those
who figure in political life. The organ of the Alliance, who would
"deeply deplore the recognition of any principle which could be wrested
to justify bigotry and persecution," undertakes to point out the "broad
and impassable barrier" which divides such principles from those of the
association. "All matters relating to thought, opinion, conscience,
appear to me," he says, "to be without the sphere of legislation; all
pertaining to social act, habit, relation, subject only to a
discretionary power vested in the State itself, and not in the
individual, to be within it." No mention is made of a third class,
different from either of these, viz. acts and habits which are not
social, but individual; although it is to this class, surely, that the
act of drinking fermented liquors belongs. Selling fermented liquors,
however, is trading, and trading is a social act. But the infringement
complained of is not on the liberty of the seller, but on that of the
buyer and consumer; since the State might just as well forbid him to
drink wine, as purposely make it impossible for him to obtain it. The
Secretary, however, says, "I claim, as a citizen, a right to legislate
whenever my social rights are invaded by the social act of another." And
now for the definition of these "social rights." "If anything invades my
social rights, certainly the traffic in strong drink does. It destroys
my primary right of security, by constantly creating and stimulating
social disorder. It invades my right of equality, by deriving a profit
from the creation of a misery, I am taxed to support. It impedes my
right to free moral and intellectual development, by surrounding my path
with dangers, and by weakening and demoralising society, from which I
have a right to claim mutual aid and intercourse." A theory of "social
rights," the like of which probably never before found its way into
distinct language--being nothing short of this--that it is the absolute
social right of every individual, that every other individual shall act
in every respect exactly as he ought; that whosoever fails thereof in
the smallest particular, violates my social right, and entitles me to
demand from the legislature the removal of the grievance. So monstrous a
principle is far more dangerous than any single interference with
liberty; there is no violation of liberty which it would not justify;
it acknowledges no right to any freedom whatever, except perhaps to that
of holding opinions in secret, without ever disclosing them: for the
moment an opinion which I consider noxious, passes any one's lips, it
invades all the "social rights" attributed to me by the Alliance. The
doctrine ascribes to all mankind a vested interest in each other's
moral, intellectual, and even physical perfection, to be defined by each
claimant according to his own standard.

Another important example of illegitimate interference with the rightful
liberty of the individual, not simply threatened, but long since carried
into triumphant effect, is Sabbatarian legislation. Without doubt,
abstinence on one day in the week, so far as the exigencies of life
permit, from the usual daily occupation, though in no respect
religiously binding on any except Jews, is a highly beneficial custom.
And inasmuch as this custom cannot be observed without a general consent
to that effect among the industrious classes, therefore, in so far as
some persons by working may impose the same necessity on others, it may
be allowable and right that the law should guarantee to each, the
observance by others of the custom, by suspending the greater operations
of industry on a particular day. But this justification, grounded on the
direct interest which others have in each individual's observance of
the practice, does not apply to the self-chosen occupations in which a
person may think fit to employ his leisure; nor does it hold good, in
the smallest degree, for legal restrictions on amusements. It is true
that the amusement of some is the day's work of others; but the
pleasure, not to say the useful recreation, of many, is worth the labour
of a few, provided the occupation is freely chosen, and can be freely
resigned. The operatives are perfectly right in thinking that if all
worked on Sunday, seven days' work would have to be given for six days'
wages: but so long as the great mass of employments are suspended, the
small number who for the enjoyment of others must still work, obtain a
proportional increase of earnings; and they are not obliged to follow
those occupations, if they prefer leisure to emolument. If a further
remedy is sought, it might be found in the establishment by custom of a
holiday on some other day of the week for those particular classes of
persons. The only ground, therefore, on which restrictions on Sunday
amusements can be defended, must be that they are religiously wrong; a
motive of legislation which never can be too earnestly protested
against. "Deorum injuriæ Diis curæ." It remains to be proved that
society or any of its officers holds a commission from on high to
avenge any supposed offence to Omnipotence, which is not also a wrong to
our fellow-creatures. The notion that it is one man's duty that another
should be religious, was the foundation of all the religious
persecutions ever perpetrated, and if admitted, would fully justify
them. Though the feeling which breaks out in the repeated attempts to
stop railway travelling on Sunday, in the resistance to the opening of
Museums, and the like, has not the cruelty of the old persecutors, the
state of mind indicated by it is fundamentally the same. It is a
determination not to tolerate others in doing what is permitted by their
religion, because it is not permitted by the persecutor's religion. It
is a belief that God not only abominates the act of the misbeliever, but
will not hold us guiltless if we leave him unmolested.

I cannot refrain from adding to these examples of the little account
commonly made of human liberty, the language of downright persecution
which breaks out from the press of this country, whenever it feels
called on to notice the remarkable phenomenon of Mormonism. Much might
be said on the unexpected and instructive fact, that an alleged new
revelation, and a religion founded on it, the product of palpable
imposture, not even supported by the _prestige_ of extraordinary
qualities in its founder, is believed by hundreds of thousands, and has
been made the foundation of a society, in the age of newspapers,
railways, and the electric telegraph. What here concerns us is, that
this religion, like other and better religions, has its martyrs; that
its prophet and founder was, for his teaching, put to death by a mob;
that others of its adherents lost their lives by the same lawless
violence; that they were forcibly expelled, in a body, from the country
in which they first grew up; while, now that they have been chased into
a solitary recess in the midst of a desert, many in this country openly
declare that it would be right (only that it is not convenient) to send
an expedition against them, and compel them by force to conform to the
opinions of other people. The article of the Mormonite doctrine which is
the chief provocative to the antipathy which thus breaks through the
ordinary restraints of religious tolerance, is its sanction of polygamy;
which, though permitted to Mahomedans, and Hindoos, and Chinese, seems
to excite unquenchable animosity when practised by persons who speak
English, and profess to be a kind of Christians. No one has a deeper
disapprobation than I have of this Mormon institution; both for other
reasons, and because, far from being in any way countenanced by the
principle of liberty, it is a direct infraction of that principle, being
a mere riveting of the chains of one half of the community, and an
emancipation of the other from reciprocity of obligation towards them.
Still, it must be remembered that this relation is as much voluntary on
the part of the women concerned in it, and who may be deemed the
sufferers by it, as is the case with any other form of the marriage
institution; and however surprising this fact may appear, it has its
explanation in the common ideas and customs of the world, which teaching
women to think marriage the one thing needful, make it intelligible that
many a woman should prefer being one of several wives, to not being a
wife at all. Other countries are not asked to recognise such unions, or
release any portion of their inhabitants from their own laws on the
score of Mormonite opinions. But when the dissentients have conceded to
the hostile sentiments of others, far more than could justly be
demanded; when they have left the countries to which their doctrines
were unacceptable, and established themselves in a remote corner of the
earth, which they have been the first to render habitable to human
beings; it is difficult to see on what principles but those of tyranny
they can be prevented from living there under what laws they please,
provided they commit no aggression on other nations, and allow perfect
freedom of departure to those who are dissatisfied with their ways. A
recent writer, in some respects of considerable merit, proposes (to use
his own words), not a crusade, but a _civilizade_, against this
polygamous community, to put an end to what seems to him a retrograde
step in civilisation. It also appears so to me, but I am not aware that
any community has a right to force another to be civilised. So long as
the sufferers by the bad law do not invoke assistance from other
communities, I cannot admit that persons entirely unconnected with them
ought to step in and require that a condition of things with which all
who are directly interested appear to be satisfied, should be put an end
to because it is a scandal to persons some thousands of miles distant,
who have no part or concern in it. Let them send missionaries, if they
please, to preach against it; and let them, by any fair means (of which
silencing the teachers is not one), oppose the progress of similar
doctrines among their own people. If civilisation has got the better of
barbarism when barbarism had the world to itself, it is too much to
profess to be afraid lest barbarism, after having been fairly got under,
should revive and conquer civilisation. A civilisation that can thus
succumb to its vanquished enemy, must first have become so degenerate,
that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody else, has
the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it. If this be
so, the sooner such a civilisation receives notice to quit, the better.
It can only go on from bad to worse, until destroyed and regenerated
(like the Western Empire) by energetic barbarians.


[14] The case of the Bombay Parsees is a curious instance in point. When
this industrious and enterprising tribe, the descendants of the Persian
fire-worshippers, flying from their native country before the Caliphs,
arrived in Western India, they were admitted to toleration by the Hindoo
sovereigns, on condition of not eating beef. When those regions
afterwards fell under the dominion of Mahomedan conquerors, the Parsees
obtained from them a continuance of indulgence, on condition of
refraining from pork. What was at first obedience to authority became a
second nature, and the Parsees to this day abstain both from beef and
pork. Though not required by their religion, the double abstinence has
had time to grow into a custom of their tribe; and custom, in the East,
is a religion.



The principles asserted in these pages must be more generally admitted
as the basis for discussion of details, before a consistent application
of them to all the various departments of government and morals can be
attempted with any prospect of advantage. The few observations I propose
to make on questions of detail, are designed to illustrate the
principles, rather than to follow them out to their consequences. I
offer, not so much applications, as specimens of application; which may
serve to bring into greater clearness the meaning and limits of the two
maxims which together form the entire doctrine of this Essay, and to
assist the judgment in holding the balance between them, in the cases
where it appears doubtful which of them is applicable to the case.

The maxims are, first, that the individual is not accountable to society
for his actions, in so far as these concern the interests of no person
but himself. Advice, instruction, persuasion, and avoidance by other
people if thought necessary by them for their own good, are the only
measures by which society can justifiably express its dislike or
disapprobation of his conduct. Secondly, that for such actions as are
prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable
and may be subjected either to social or to legal punishments, if
society is of opinion that the one or the other is requisite for its

In the first place, it must by no means be supposed, because damage, or
probability of damage, to the interests of others, can alone justify the
interference of society, that therefore it always does justify such
interference. In many cases, an individual, in pursuing a legitimate
object, necessarily and therefore legitimately causes pain or loss to
others, or intercepts a good which they had a reasonable hope of
obtaining. Such oppositions of interest between individuals often arise
from bad social institutions, but are unavoidable while those
institutions last; and some would be unavoidable under any institutions.
Whoever succeeds in an overcrowded profession, or in a competitive
examination; whoever is preferred to another in any contest for an
object which both desire, reaps benefit from the loss of others, from
their wasted exertion and their disappointment. But it is, by common
admission, better for the general interest of mankind, that persons
should pursue their objects undeterred by this sort of consequences. In
other words, society admits no rights, either legal or moral, in the
disappointed competitors, to immunity from this kind of suffering; and
feels called on to interfere, only when means of success have been
employed which it is contrary to the general interest to permit--namely,
fraud or treachery, and force.

Again, trade is a social act. Whoever undertakes to sell any description
of goods to the public, does what affects the interest of other persons,
and of society in general; and thus his conduct, in principle, comes
within the jurisdiction of society: accordingly, it was once held to be
the duty of governments, in all cases which were considered of
importance, to fix prices, and regulate the processes of manufacture.
But it is now recognised, though not till after a long struggle, that
both the cheapness and the good quality of commodities are most
effectually provided for by leaving the producers and sellers perfectly
free, under the sole check of equal freedom to the buyers for supplying
themselves elsewhere. This is the so-called doctrine of Free Trade,
which rests on grounds different from, though equally solid with, the
principle of individual liberty asserted in this Essay. Restrictions on
trade, or on production for purposes of trade, are indeed restraints;
and all restraint, _quâ_ restraint, is an evil: but the restraints in
question affect only that part of conduct which society is competent to
restrain, and are wrong solely because they do not really produce the
results which it is desired to produce by them. As the principle of
individual liberty is not involved in the doctrine of Free Trade, so
neither is it in most of the questions which arise respecting the limits
of that doctrine: as for example, what amount of public control is
admissible for the prevention of fraud by adulteration; how far sanitary
precautions, or arrangements to protect work-people employed in
dangerous occupations, should be enforced on employers. Such questions
involve considerations of liberty, only in so far as leaving people to
themselves is always better, _cæteris paribus_, than controlling them:
but that they may be legitimately controlled for these ends, is in
principle undeniable. On the other hand, there are questions relating to
interference with trade, which are essentially questions of liberty;
such as the Maine Law, already touched upon; the prohibition of the
importation of opium into China; the restriction of the sale of poisons;
all cases, in short, where the object of the interference is to make it
impossible or difficult to obtain a particular commodity. These
interferences are objectionable, not as infringements on the liberty of
the producer or seller, but on that of the buyer.

One of these examples, that of the sale of poisons, opens a new
question; the proper limits of what may be called the functions of
police; how far liberty may legitimately be invaded for the prevention
of crime, or of accident. It is one of the undisputed functions of
government to take precautions against crime before it has been
committed, as well as to detect and punish it afterwards. The preventive
function of government, however, is far more liable to be abused, to the
prejudice of liberty, than the punitory function; for there is hardly
any part of the legitimate freedom of action of a human being which
would not admit of being represented, and fairly too, as increasing the
facilities for some form or other of delinquency. Nevertheless, if a
public authority, or even a private person, sees any one evidently
preparing to commit a crime, they are not bound to look on inactive
until the crime is committed, but may interfere to prevent it. If
poisons were never bought or used for any purpose except the commission
of murder, it would be right to prohibit their manufacture and sale.
They may, however, be wanted not only for innocent but for useful
purposes, and restrictions cannot be imposed in the one case without
operating in the other. Again, it is a proper office of public authority
to guard against accidents. If either a public officer or any one else
saw a person attempting to cross a bridge which had been ascertained to
be unsafe, and there were no time to warn him of his danger, they might
seize him and turn him back, without any real infringement of his
liberty; for liberty consists in doing what one desires, and he does not
desire to fall into the river. Nevertheless, when there is not a
certainty, but only a danger of mischief, no one but the person himself
can judge of the sufficiency of the motive which may prompt him to incur
the risk: in this case, therefore (unless he is a child, or delirious,
or in some state of excitement or absorption incompatible with the full
use of the reflecting faculty), he ought, I conceive, to be only warned
of the danger; not forcibly prevented from exposing himself to it.
Similar considerations, applied to such a question as the sale of
poisons, may enable us to decide which among the possible modes of
regulation are or are not contrary to principle. Such a precaution, for
example, as that of labelling the drug with some word expressive of its
dangerous character, may be enforced without violation of liberty: the
buyer cannot wish not to know that the thing he possesses has poisonous
qualities. But to require in all cases the certificate of a medical
practitioner, would make it sometimes impossible, always expensive, to
obtain the article for legitimate uses. The only mode apparent to me, in
which difficulties may be thrown in the way of crime committed through
this means, without any infringement, worth taking into account, upon
the liberty of those who desire the poisonous substance for other
purposes, consists in providing what, in the apt language of Bentham, is
called "preappointed evidence." This provision is familiar to every one
in the case of contracts. It is usual and right that the law, when a
contract is entered into, should require as the condition of its
enforcing performance, that certain formalities should be observed, such
as signatures, attestation of witnesses, and the like, in order that in
case of subsequent dispute, there may be evidence to prove that the
contract was really entered into, and that there was nothing in the
circumstances to render it legally invalid: the effect being, to throw
great obstacles in the way of fictitious contracts, or contracts made in
circumstances which, if known, would destroy their validity. Precautions
of a similar nature might be enforced in the sale of articles adapted to
be instruments of crime. The seller, for example, might be required to
enter into a register the exact time of the transaction, the name and
address of the buyer, the precise quality and quantity sold; to ask the
purpose for which it was wanted, and record the answer he received. When
there was no medical prescription, the presence of some third person
might be required, to bring home the fact to the purchaser, in case
there should afterwards be reason to believe that the article had been
applied to criminal purposes. Such regulations would in general be no
material impediment to obtaining the article, but a very considerable
one to making an improper use of it without detection.

The right inherent in society, to ward off crimes against itself by
antecedent precautions, suggests the obvious limitations to the maxim,
that purely self-regarding misconduct cannot properly be meddled with
in the way of prevention or punishment. Drunkenness, for example, in
ordinary cases, is not a fit subject for legislative interference; but I
should deem it perfectly legitimate that a person, who had once been
convicted of any act of violence to others under the influence of drink,
should be placed under a special legal restriction, personal to himself;
that if he were afterwards found drunk, he should be liable to a
penalty, and that if when in that state he committed another offence,
the punishment to which he would be liable for that other offence should
be increased in severity. The making himself drunk, in a person whom
drunkenness excites to do harm to others, is a crime against others. So,
again, idleness, except in a person receiving support from the public,
or except when it constitutes a breach of contract, cannot without
tyranny be made a subject of legal punishment; but if either from
idleness or from any other avoidable cause, a man fails to perform his
legal duties to others, as for instance to support his children, it is
no tyranny to force him to fulfil that obligation, by compulsory labour,
if no other means are available.

Again, there are many acts which, being directly injurious only to the
agents themselves, ought not to be legally interdicted, but which, if
done publicly, are a violation of good manners and coming thus within
the category of offences against others may rightfully be prohibited. Of
this kind are offences against decency; on which it is unnecessary to
dwell, the rather as they are only connected indirectly with our
subject, the objection to publicity being equally strong in the case of
many actions not in themselves condemnable, nor supposed to be so.

There is another question to which an answer must be found, consistent
with the principles which have been laid down. In cases of personal
conduct supposed to be blamable, but which respect for liberty precludes
society from preventing or punishing, because the evil directly
resulting falls wholly on the agent; what the agent is free to do, ought
other persons to be equally free to counsel or instigate? This question
is not free from difficulty. The case of a person who solicits another
to do an act, is not strictly a case of self-regarding conduct. To give
advice or offer inducements to any one, is a social act, and may
therefore, like actions in general which affect others, be supposed
amenable to social control. But a little reflection corrects the first
impression, by showing that if the case is not strictly within the
definition of individual liberty, yet the reasons on which the
principle of individual liberty is grounded, are applicable to it. If
people must be allowed, in whatever concerns only themselves, to act as
seems best to themselves at their own peril, they must equally be free
to consult with one another about what is fit to be so done; to exchange
opinions, and give and receive suggestions. Whatever it is permitted to
do, it must be permitted to advise to do. The question is doubtful, only
when the instigator derives a personal benefit from his advice; when he
makes it his occupation, for subsistence or pecuniary gain, to promote
what society and the state consider to be an evil. Then, indeed, a new
element of complication is introduced; namely, the existence of classes
of persons with an interest opposed to what is considered as the public
weal, and whose mode of living is grounded on the counteraction of it.
Ought this to be interfered with, or not? Fornication, for example, must
be tolerated, and so must gambling; but should a person be free to be a
pimp, or to keep a gambling-house? The case is one of those which lie on
the exact boundary line between two principles, and it is not at once
apparent to which of the two it properly belongs. There are arguments on
both sides. On the side of toleration it may be said, that the fact of
following anything as an occupation, and living or profiting by the
practice of it, cannot make that criminal which would otherwise be
admissible; that the act should either be consistently permitted or
consistently prohibited; that if the principles which we have hitherto
defended are true, society has no business, _as_ society, to decide
anything to be wrong which concerns only the individual; that it cannot
go beyond dissuasion, and that one person should be as free to persuade,
as another to dissuade. In opposition to this it may be contended, that
although the public, or the State, are not warranted in authoritatively
deciding, for purposes of repression or punishment, that such or such
conduct affecting only the interests of the individual is good or bad,
they are fully justified in assuming, if they regard it as bad, that its
being so or not is at least a disputable question: That, this being
supposed, they cannot be acting wrongly in endeavouring to exclude the
influence of solicitations which are not disinterested, of instigators
who cannot possibly be impartial--who have a direct personal interest on
one side, and that side the one which the State believes to be wrong,
and who confessedly promote it for personal objects only. There can
surely, it may be urged, be nothing lost, no sacrifice of good, by so
ordering matters that persons shall make their election, either wisely
or foolishly, on their own prompting, as free as possible from the arts
of persons who stimulate their inclinations for interested purposes of
their own. Thus (it may be said) though the statutes respecting unlawful
games are utterly indefensible--though all persons should be free to
gamble in their own or each other's houses, or in any place of meeting
established by their own subscriptions, and open only to the members and
their visitors--yet public gambling-houses should not be permitted. It
is true that the prohibition is never effectual, and that whatever
amount of tyrannical power is given to the police, gambling-houses can
always be maintained under other pretences; but they may be compelled to
conduct their operations with a certain degree of secrecy and mystery,
so that nobody knows anything about them but those who seek them; and
more than this, society ought not to aim at. There is considerable force
in these arguments; I will not venture to decide whether they are
sufficient to justify the moral anomaly of punishing the accessary, when
the principal is (and must be) allowed to go free; or fining or
imprisoning the procurer, but not the fornicator, the gambling-house
keeper, but not the gambler. Still less ought the common operations of
buying and selling to be interfered with on analogous grounds. Almost
every article which is bought and sold may be used in excess, and the
sellers have a pecuniary interest in encouraging that excess; but no
argument can be founded on this, in favour, for instance, of the Maine
Law; because the class of dealers in strong drinks, though interested in
their abuse, are indispensably required for the sake of their legitimate
use. The interest, however, of these dealers in promoting intemperance
is a real evil, and justifies the State in imposing restrictions and
requiring guarantees, which but for that justification would be
infringements of legitimate liberty.

A further question is, whether the State, while it permits, should
nevertheless indirectly discourage conduct which it deems contrary to
the best interests of the agent; whether, for example, it should take
measures to render the means of drunkenness more costly, or add to the
difficulty of procuring them, by limiting the number of the places of
sale. On this as on most other practical questions, many distinctions
require to be made. To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making
them more difficult to be obtained, is a measure differing only in
degree from their entire prohibition; and would be justifiable only if
that were justifiable. Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those
whose means do not come up to the augmented price; and to those who do,
it is a penalty laid on them for gratifying a particular taste. Their
choice of pleasures, and their mode of expending their income, after
satisfying their legal and moral obligations to the State and to
individuals, are their own concern, and must rest with their own
judgment. These considerations may seem at first sight to condemn the
selection of stimulants as special subjects of taxation for purposes of
revenue. But it must be remembered that taxation for fiscal purposes is
absolutely inevitable; that in most countries it is necessary that a
considerable part of that taxation should be indirect; that the State,
therefore, cannot help imposing penalties, which to some persons may be
prohibitory, on the use of some articles of consumption. It is hence the
duty of the State to consider, in the imposition of taxes, what
commodities the consumers can best spare; and _à fortiori_, to select in
preference those of which it deems the use, beyond a very moderate
quantity, to be positively injurious. Taxation, therefore, of
stimulants, up to the point which produces the largest amount of revenue
(supposing that the State needs all the revenue which it yields) is not
only admissible, but to be approved of.

The question of making the sale of these commodities a more or less
exclusive privilege, must be answered differently, according to the
purposes to which the restriction is intended to be subservient. All
places of public resort require the restraint of a police, and places of
this kind peculiarly, because offences against society are especially
apt to originate there. It is, therefore, fit to confine the power of
selling these commodities (at least for consumption on the spot) to
persons of known or vouched-for respectability of conduct; to make such
regulations respecting hours of opening and closing as may be requisite
for public surveillance, and to withdraw the licence if breaches of the
peace repeatedly take place through the connivance or incapacity of the
keeper of the house, or if it becomes a rendezvous for concocting and
preparing offences against the law. Any further restriction I do not
conceive to be, in principle, justifiable. The limitation in number, for
instance, of beer and spirit-houses, for the express purpose of
rendering them more difficult of access, and diminishing the occasions
of temptation, not only exposes all to an inconvenience because there
are some by whom the facility would be abused, but is suited only to a
state of society in which the labouring classes are avowedly treated as
children or savages, and placed under an education of restraint, to fit
them for future admission to the privileges of freedom. This is not the
principle on which the labouring classes are professedly governed in any
free country; and no person who sets due value on freedom will give his
adhesion to their being so governed, unless after all efforts have been
exhausted to educate them for freedom and govern them as freemen, and it
has been definitively proved that they can only be governed as children.
The bare statement of the alternative shows the absurdity of supposing
that such efforts have been made in any case which needs be considered
here. It is only because the institutions of this country are a mass of
inconsistencies, that things find admittance into our practice which
belong to the system of despotic, or what is called paternal,
government, while the general freedom of our institutions precludes the
exercise of the amount of control necessary to render the restraint of
any real efficacy as a moral education.

It was pointed out in an early part of this Essay, that the liberty of
the individual, in things wherein the individual is alone concerned,
implies a corresponding liberty in any number of individuals to regulate
by mutual agreement such things as regard them jointly, and regard no
persons but themselves. This question presents no difficulty, so long as
the will of all the persons implicated remains unaltered; but since that
will may change, it is often necessary, even in things in which they
alone are concerned, that they should enter into engagements with one
another; and when they do, it is fit, as a general rule, that those
engagements should be kept. Yet in the laws, probably, of every country,
this general rule has some exceptions. Not only persons are not held to
engagements which violate the rights of third parties, but it is
sometimes considered a sufficient reason for releasing them from an
engagement, that it is injurious to themselves. In this and most other
civilised countries, for example, an engagement by which a person should
sell himself, or allow himself to be sold, as a slave, would be null and
void; neither enforced by law nor by opinion. The ground for thus
limiting his power of voluntarily disposing of his own lot in life, is
apparent, and is very clearly seen in this extreme case. The reason for
not interfering, unless for the sake of others, with a person's
voluntary acts, is consideration for his liberty. His voluntary choice
is evidence that what he so chooses is desirable, or at the least
endurable, to him, and his good is on the whole best provided for by
allowing him to take his own means of pursuing it. But by selling
himself for a slave, he abdicates his liberty; he foregoes any future
use of it, beyond that single act. He therefore defeats, in his own
case, the very purpose which is the justification of allowing him to
dispose of himself. He is no longer free; but is thenceforth in a
position which has no longer the presumption in its favour, that would
be afforded by his voluntarily remaining in it. The principle of freedom
cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom,
to be allowed to alienate his freedom. These reasons, the force of which
is so conspicuous in this peculiar case, are evidently of far wider
application; yet a limit is everywhere set to them by the necessities of
life, which continually require, not indeed that we should resign our
freedom, but that we should consent to this and the other limitation of
it. The principle, however, which demands uncontrolled freedom of action
in all that concerns only the agents themselves, requires that those who
have become bound to one another, in things which concern no third
party, should be able to release one another from the engagement: and
even without such voluntary release, there are perhaps no contracts or
engagements, except those that relate to money or money's worth, of
which one can venture to say that there ought to be no liberty whatever
of retractation. Baron Wilhelm von Humboldt, in the excellent essay from
which I have already quoted, states it as his conviction, that
engagements which involve personal relations or services, should never
be legally binding beyond a limited duration of time; and that the most
important of these engagements, marriage, having the peculiarity that
its objects are frustrated unless the feelings of both the parties are
in harmony with it, should require nothing more than the declared will
of either party to dissolve it. This subject is too important, and too
complicated, to be discussed in a parenthesis, and I touch on it only so
far as is necessary for purposes of illustration. If the conciseness and
generality of Baron Humboldt's dissertation had not obliged him in this
instance to content himself with enunciating his conclusion without
discussing the premises, he would doubtless have recognised that the
question cannot be decided on grounds so simple as those to which he
confines himself. When a person, either by express promise or by
conduct, has encouraged another to rely upon his continuing to act in a
certain way--to build expectations and calculations, and stake any part
of his plan of life upon that supposition, a new series of moral
obligations arises on his part towards that person, which may possibly
be overruled, but cannot be ignored. And again, if the relation between
two contracting parties has been followed by consequences to others; if
it has placed third parties in any peculiar position, or, as in the case
of marriage, has even called third parties into existence, obligations
arise on the part of both the contracting parties towards those third
persons, the fulfilment of which, or at all events the mode of
fulfilment, must be greatly affected by the continuance or disruption of
the relation between the original parties to the contract. It does not
follow, nor can I admit, that these obligations extend to requiring the
fulfilment of the contract at all costs to the happiness of the
reluctant party; but they are a necessary element in the question; and
even if, as Von Humboldt maintains, they ought to make no difference in
the _legal_ freedom of the parties to release themselves from the
engagement (and I also hold that they ought not to make _much_
difference), they necessarily make a great difference in the _moral_
freedom. A person is bound to take all these circumstances into account,
before resolving on a step which may affect such important interests of
others; and if he does not allow proper weight to those interests, he is
morally responsible for the wrong. I have made these obvious remarks for
the better illustration of the general principle of liberty, and not
because they are at all needed on the particular question, which, on the
contrary, is usually discussed as if the interest of children was
everything, and that of grown persons nothing.

I have already observed that, owing to the absence of any recognised
general principles, liberty is often granted where it should be
withheld, as well as withheld where it should be granted; and one of the
cases in which, in the modern European world, the sentiment of liberty
is the strongest, is a case where, in my view, it is altogether
misplaced. A person should be free to do as he likes in his own
concerns; but he ought not to be free to do as he likes in acting for
another, under the pretext that the affairs of another are his own
affairs. The State, while it respects the liberty of each in what
specially regards himself, is bound to maintain a vigilant control over
his exercise of any power which it allows him to possess over others.
This obligation is almost entirely disregarded in the case of the
family relations, a case, in its direct influence on human happiness,
more important than all others taken together. The almost despotic power
of husbands over wives need not be enlarged upon here because nothing
more is needed for the complete removal of the evil, than that wives
should have the same rights, and should receive the protection of law in
the same manner, as all other persons; and because, on this subject, the
defenders of established injustice do not avail themselves of the plea
of liberty, but stand forth openly as the champions of power. It is in
the case of children, that misapplied notions of liberty are a real
obstacle to the fulfilment by the State of its duties. One would almost
think that a man's children were supposed to be literally, and not
metaphorically, a part of himself, so jealous is opinion of the smallest
interference of law with his absolute and exclusive control over them;
more jealous than of almost any interference with his own freedom of
action: so much less do the generality of mankind value liberty than
power. Consider, for example, the case of education. Is it not almost a
self-evident axiom, that the State should require and compel the
education, up to a certain standard, of every human being who is born
its citizen? Yet who is there that is not afraid to recognise and
assert this truth? Hardly any one indeed will deny that it is one of the
most sacred duties of the parents (or, as law and usage now stand, the
father), after summoning a human being into the world, to give to that
being an education fitting him to perform his part well in life towards
others and towards himself. But while this is unanimously declared to be
the father's duty, scarcely anybody, in this country, will bear to hear
of obliging him to perform it. Instead of his being required to make any
exertion or sacrifice for securing education to the child, it is left to
his choice to accept it or not when it is provided gratis! It still
remains unrecognised, that to bring a child into existence without a
fair prospect of being able, not only to provide food for its body, but
instruction and training for its mind, is a moral crime, both against
the unfortunate offspring and against society; and that if the parent
does not fulfil this obligation, the State ought to see it fulfilled, at
the charge, as far as possible, of the parent.

Were the duty of enforcing universal education once admitted, there
would be an end to the difficulties about what the State should teach,
and how it should teach, which now convert the subject into a mere
battle-field for sects and parties, causing the time and labour which
should have been spent in educating, to be wasted in quarrelling about
education. If the government would make up its mind to _require_ for
every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of
_providing_ one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where
and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school
fees of the poorer class of children, and defraying the entire school
expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them. The objections
which are urged with reason against State education, do not apply to the
enforcement of education by the State, but to the State's taking upon
itself to direct that education; which is a totally different thing.
That the whole or any large part of the education of the people should
be in State hands, I go as far as any one in deprecating. All that has
been said of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity
in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable
importance, diversity of education. A general State education is a mere
contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and as
the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant
power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an
aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in proportion
as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the
mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body. An education
established and controlled by the State, should only exist, if it exist
at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the
purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain
standard of excellence. Unless, indeed, when society in general is in so
backward a state that it could not or would not provide for itself any
proper institutions of education, unless the government undertook the
task; then, indeed, the government may, as the less of two great evils,
take upon itself the business of schools and universities, as it may
that of joint stock companies, when private enterprise, in a shape
fitted for undertaking great works of industry, does not exist in the
country. But in general, if the country contains a sufficient number of
persons qualified to provide education under government auspices, the
same persons would be able and willing to give an equally good education
on the voluntary principle, under the assurance of remuneration afforded
by a law rendering education compulsory, combined with State aid to
those unable to defray the expense.

The instrument for enforcing the law could be no other than public
examinations, extending to all children, and beginning at an early age.
An age might be fixed at which every child must be examined, to
ascertain if he (or she) is able to read. If a child proves unable, the
father, unless he has some sufficient ground of excuse, might be
subjected to a moderate fine, to be worked out, if necessary, by his
labour, and the child might be put to school at his expense. Once in
every year the examination should be renewed, with a gradually extending
range of subjects, so as to make the universal acquisition, and what is
more, retention, of a certain minimum of general knowledge, virtually
compulsory. Beyond that minimum, there should be voluntary examinations
on all subjects, at which all who come up to a certain standard of
proficiency might claim a certificate. To prevent the State from
exercising, through these arrangements, an improper influence over
opinion, the knowledge required for passing an examination (beyond the
merely instrumental parts of knowledge, such as languages and their use)
should, even in the higher class of examinations, be confined to facts
and positive science exclusively. The examinations on religion,
politics, or other disputed topics, should not turn on the truth or
falsehood of opinions, but on the matter of fact that such and such an
opinion is held, on such grounds, by such authors, or schools, or
churches. Under this system, the rising generation would be no worse off
in regard to all disputed truths, than they are at present; they would
be brought up either churchmen or dissenters as they now are, the state
merely taking care that they should be instructed churchmen, or
instructed dissenters. There would be nothing to hinder them from being
taught religion, if their parents chose, at the same schools where they
were taught other things. All attempts by the state to bias the
conclusions of its citizens on disputed subjects, are evil; but it may
very properly offer to ascertain and certify that a person possesses the
knowledge, requisite to make his conclusions, on any given subject,
worth attending to. A student of philosophy would be the better for
being able to stand an examination both in Locke and in Kant, whichever
of the two he takes up with, or even if with neither: and there is no
reasonable objection to examining an atheist in the evidences of
Christianity, provided he is not required to profess a belief in them.
The examinations, however, in the higher branches of knowledge should, I
conceive, be entirely voluntary. It would be giving too dangerous a
power to governments, were they allowed to exclude any one from
professions, even from the profession of teacher, for alleged deficiency
of qualifications: and I think, with Wilhelm von Humboldt, that degrees,
or other public certificates of scientific or professional acquirements,
should be given to all who present themselves for examination, and stand
the test; but that such certificates should confer no advantage over
competitors, other than the weight which may be attached to their
testimony by public opinion.

It is not in the matter of education only, that misplaced notions of
liberty prevent moral obligations on the part of parents from being
recognised, and legal obligations from being imposed, where there are
the strongest grounds for the former always, and in many cases for the
latter also. The fact itself, of causing the existence of a human being,
is one of the most responsible actions in the range of human life. To
undertake this responsibility--to bestow a life which may be either a
curse or a blessing--unless the being on whom it is to be bestowed will
have at least the ordinary chances of a desirable existence, is a crime
against that being. And in a country either over-peopled, or threatened
with being so, to produce children, beyond a very small number, with
the effect of reducing the reward of labour by their competition, is a
serious offence against all who live by the remuneration of their
labour. The laws which, in many countries on the Continent, forbid
marriage unless the parties can show that they have the means of
supporting a family, do not exceed the legitimate powers of the state:
and whether such laws be expedient or not (a question mainly dependent
on local circumstances and feelings), they are not objectionable as
violations of liberty. Such laws are interferences of the state to
prohibit a mischievous act--an act injurious to others, which ought to
be a subject of reprobation, and social stigma, even when it is not
deemed expedient to superadd legal punishment. Yet the current ideas of
liberty, which bend so easily to real infringements of the freedom of
the individual, in things which concern only himself, would repel the
attempt to put any restraint upon his inclinations when the consequence
of their indulgence is a life, or lives, of wretchedness and depravity
to the offspring, with manifold evils to those sufficiently within reach
to be in any way affected by their actions. When we compare the strange
respect of mankind for liberty, with their strange want of respect for
it, we might imagine that a man had an indispensable right to do harm
to others, and no right at all to please himself without giving pain to
any one.

I have reserved for the last place a large class of questions respecting
the limits of government interference, which, though closely connected
with the subject of this Essay, do not, in strictness, belong to it.
These are cases in which the reasons against interference do not turn
upon the principle of liberty: the question is not about restraining the
actions of individuals, but about helping them: it is asked whether the
government should do, or cause to be done, something for their benefit,
instead of leaving it to be done by themselves, individually, or in
voluntary combination.

The objections to government interference, when it is not such as to
involve infringement of liberty, may be of three kinds.

The first is, when the thing to be done is likely to be better done by
individuals than by the government. Speaking generally, there is no one
so fit to conduct any business, or to determine how or by whom it shall
be conducted, as those who are personally interested in it. This
principle condemns the interferences, once so common, of the
legislature, or the officers of government, with the ordinary processes
of industry. But this part of the subject has been sufficiently enlarged
upon by political economists, and is not particularly related to the
principles of this Essay.

The second objection is more nearly allied to our subject. In many
cases, though individuals may not do the particular thing so well, on
the average, as the officers of government, it is nevertheless desirable
that it should be done by them, rather than by the government, as a
means to their own mental education--a mode of strengthening their
active faculties, exercising their judgment, and giving them a familiar
knowledge of the subjects with which they are thus left to deal. This is
a principal, though not the sole, recommendation of jury trial (in cases
not political); of free and popular local and municipal institutions; of
the conduct of industrial and philanthropic enterprises by voluntary
associations. These are not questions of liberty, and are connected with
that subject only by remote tendencies; but they are questions of
development. It belongs to a different occasion from the present to
dwell on these things as parts of national education; as being, in
truth, the peculiar training of a citizen, the practical part of the
political education of a free people, taking them out of the narrow
circle of personal and family selfishness, and accustoming them to the
comprehension of joint interests, the management of joint
concerns--habituating them to act from public or semi-public motives,
and guide their conduct by aims which unite instead of isolating them
from one another. Without these habits and powers, a free constitution
can neither be worked nor preserved, as is exemplified by the too-often
transitory nature of political freedom in countries where it does not
rest upon a sufficient basis of local liberties. The management of
purely local business by the localities, and of the great enterprises of
industry by the union of those who voluntarily supply the pecuniary
means, is further recommended by all the advantages which have been set
forth in this Essay as belonging to individuality of development, and
diversity of modes of action. Government operations tend to be
everywhere alike. With individuals and voluntary associations, on the
contrary, there are varied experiments, and endless diversity of
experience. What the State can usefully do, is to make itself a central
depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience
resulting from many trials. Its business is to enable each
experimentalist to benefit by the experiments of others, instead of
tolerating no experiments but its own.

The third, and most cogent reason for restricting the interference of
government, is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power.
Every function superadded to those already exercised by the government,
causes its influence over hopes and fears to be more widely diffused,
and converts, more and more, the active and ambitious part of the public
into hangers-on of the government, or of some party which aims at
becoming the government. If the roads, the railways, the banks, the
insurance offices, the great joint-stock companies, the universities,
and the public charities, were all of them branches of the government;
if, in addition, the municipal corporations and local boards, with all
that now devolves on them, became departments of the central
administration; if the employés of all these different enterprises were
appointed and paid by the government, and looked to the government for
every rise in life; not all the freedom of the press and popular
constitution of the legislature would make this or any other country
free otherwise than in name. And the evil would be greater, the more
efficiently and scientifically the administrative machinery was
constructed--the more skilful the arrangements for obtaining the best
qualified hands and heads with which to work it. In England it has of
late been proposed that all the members of the civil service of
government should be selected by competitive examination, to obtain for
those employments the most intelligent and instructed persons
procurable; and much has been said and written for and against this
proposal. One of the arguments most insisted on by its opponents, is
that the occupation of a permanent official servant of the State does
not hold out sufficient prospects of emolument and importance to attract
the highest talents, which will always be able to find a more inviting
career in the professions, or in the service of companies and other
public bodies. One would not have been surprised if this argument had
been used by the friends of the proposition, as an answer to its
principal difficulty. Coming from the opponents it is strange enough.
What is urged as an objection is the safety-valve of the proposed
system. If indeed all the high talent of the country _could_ be drawn
into the service of the government, a proposal tending to bring about
that result might well inspire uneasiness. If every part of the business
of society which required organised concert, or large and comprehensive
views, were in the hands of the government, and if government offices
were universally filled by the ablest men, all the enlarged culture and
practised intelligence in the country, except the purely speculative,
would be concentrated in a numerous bureaucracy, to whom alone the rest
of the community would look for all things: the multitude for direction
and dictation in all they had to do; the able and aspiring for personal
advancement. To be admitted into the ranks of this bureaucracy, and when
admitted, to rise therein, would be the sole objects of ambition. Under
this régime, not only is the outside public ill-qualified, for want of
practical experience, to criticise or check the mode of operation of the
bureaucracy, but even if the accidents of despotic or the natural
working of popular institutions occasionally raise to the summit a ruler
or rulers of reforming inclinations, no reform can be effected which is
contrary to the interest of the bureaucracy. Such is the melancholy
condition of the Russian empire, as is shown in the accounts of those
who have had sufficient opportunity of observation. The Czar himself is
powerless against the bureaucratic body; he can send any one of them to
Siberia, but he cannot govern without them, or against their will. On
every decree of his they have a tacit veto, by merely refraining from
carrying it into effect. In countries of more advanced civilisation and
of a more insurrectionary spirit, the public, accustomed to expect
everything to be done for them by the State, or at least to do nothing
for themselves without asking from the State not only leave to do it,
but even how it is to be done, naturally hold the State responsible for
all evil which befalls them, and when the evil exceeds their amount of
patience, they rise against the government and make what is called a
revolution; whereupon somebody else, with or without legitimate
authority from the nation, vaults into the seat, issues his orders to
the bureaucracy, and everything goes on much as it did before; the
bureaucracy being unchanged, and nobody else being capable of taking
their place.

A very different spectacle is exhibited among a people accustomed to
transact their own business. In France, a large part of the people
having been engaged in military service, many of whom have held at least
the rank of non-commissioned officers, there are in every popular
insurrection several persons competent to take the lead, and improvise
some tolerable plan of action. What the French are in military affairs,
the Americans are in every kind of civil business; let them be left
without a government, every body of Americans is able to improvise one,
and to carry on that or any other public business with a sufficient
amount of intelligence, order, and decision. This is what every free
people ought to be: and a people capable of this is certain to be free;
it will never let itself be enslaved by any man or body of men because
these are able to seize and pull the reins of the central
administration. No bureaucracy can hope to make such a people as this do
or undergo anything that they do not like. But where everything is done
through the bureaucracy, nothing to which the bureaucracy is really
adverse can be done at all. The constitution of such countries is an
organisation of the experience and practical ability of the nation, into
a disciplined body for the purpose of governing the rest; and the more
perfect that organisation is in itself, the more successful in drawing
to itself and educating for itself the persons of greatest capacity from
all ranks of the community, the more complete is the bondage of all, the
members of the bureaucracy included. For the governors are as much the
slaves of their organisation and discipline, as the governed are of the
governors. A Chinese mandarin is as much the tool and creature of a
despotism as the humblest cultivator. An individual Jesuit is to the
utmost degree of abasement the slave of his order, though the order
itself exists for the collective power and importance of its members.

It is not, also, to be forgotten, that the absorption of all the
principal ability of the country into the governing body is fatal,
sooner or later, to the mental activity and progressiveness of the body
itself. Banded together as they are--working a system which, like all
systems, necessarily proceeds in a great measure by fixed rules--the
official body are under the constant temptation of sinking into indolent
routine, or, if they now and then desert that mill-horse round, of
rushing into some half-examined crudity which has struck the fancy of
some leading member of the corps: and the sole check to these closely
allied, though seemingly opposite, tendencies, the only stimulus which
can keep the ability of the body itself up to a high standard, is
liability to the watchful criticism of equal ability outside the body.
It is indispensable, therefore, that the means should exist,
independently of the government, of forming such ability, and furnishing
it with the opportunities and experience necessary for a correct
judgment of great practical affairs. If we would possess permanently a
skilful and efficient body of functionaries--above all, a body able to
originate and willing to adopt improvements; if we would not have our
bureaucracy degenerate into a pedantocracy, this body must not engross
all the occupations which form and cultivate the faculties required for
the government of mankind.

To determine the point at which evils, so formidable to human freedom
and advancement, begin, or rather at which they begin to predominate
over the benefits attending the collective application of the force of
society, under its recognised chiefs, for the removal of the obstacles
which stand in the way of its well-being; to secure as much of the
advantages of centralised power and intelligence, as can be had without
turning into governmental channels too great a proportion of the general
activity, is one of the most difficult and complicated questions in the
art of government. It is, in a great measure, a question of detail, in
which many and various considerations must be kept in view, and no
absolute rule can be laid down. But I believe that the practical
principle in which safety resides, the ideal to be kept in view, the
standard by which to test all arrangements intended for overcoming the
difficulty, may be conveyed in these words: the greatest dissemination
of power consistent with efficiency; but the greatest possible
centralisation of information, and diffusion of it from the centre.
Thus, in municipal administration, there would be, as in the New England
States, a very minute division among separate officers, chosen by the
localities, of all business which is not better left to the persons
directly interested; but besides this, there would be, in each
department of local affairs, a central superintendence, forming a branch
of the general government. The organ of this superintendence would
concentrate, as in a focus, the variety of information and experience
derived from the conduct of that branch of public business in all the
localities, from everything analogous which is done in foreign
countries, and from the general principles of political science. This
central organ should have a right to know all that is done, and its
special duty should be that of making the knowledge acquired in one
place available for others. Emancipated from the petty prejudices and
narrow views of a locality by its elevated position and comprehensive
sphere of observation, its advice would naturally carry much authority;
but its actual power, as a permanent institution, should, I conceive, be
limited to compelling the local officers to obey the laws laid down for
their guidance. In all things not provided for by general rules, those
officers should be left to their own judgment, under responsibility to
their constituents. For the violation of rules, they should be
responsible to law, and the rules themselves should be laid down by the
legislature; the central administrative authority only watching over
their execution, and if they were not properly carried into effect,
appealing, according to the nature of the case, to the tribunal to
enforce the law, or to the constituencies to dismiss the functionaries
who had not executed it according to its spirit. Such, in its general
conception, is the central superintendence which the Poor Law Board is
intended to exercise over the administrators of the Poor Rate throughout
the country. Whatever powers the Board exercises beyond this limit, were
right and necessary in that peculiar case, for the cure of rooted habits
of maladministration in matters deeply affecting not the localities
merely, but the whole community; since no locality has a moral right to
make itself by mismanagement a nest of pauperism, necessarily
overflowing into other localities, and impairing the moral and physical
condition of the whole labouring community. The powers of administrative
coercion and subordinate legislation possessed by the Poor Law Board
(but which, owing to the state of opinion on the subject, are very
scantily exercised by them), though perfectly justifiable in a case of
first-rate national interest, would be wholly out of place in the
superintendence of interests purely local. But a central organ of
information and instruction for all the localities, would be equally
valuable in all departments of administration. A government cannot have
too much of the kind of activity which does not impede, but aids and
stimulates, individual exertion and development. The mischief begins
when, instead of calling forth the activity and powers of individuals
and bodies, it substitutes its own activity for theirs; when, instead of
informing, advising, and, upon occasion, denouncing, it makes them work
in fetters, or bids them stand aside and does their work instead of
them. The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the
individuals composing it; and a State which postpones the interests of
_their_ mental expansion and elevation, to a little more of
administrative skill, or of that semblance of it which practice gives,
in the details of business; a State which dwarfs its men, in order that
they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial
purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be
accomplished; and that the perfection of machinery to which it has
sacrificed everything, will in the end avail it nothing, for want of the
vital power which, in order that the machine might work more smoothly,
it has preferred to banish.

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large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
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+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.