Standards too Static? Two Perspectives on Rule

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John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” touched on salient points of contention following the Enlightenment Period, specifically on “the nature and limit of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society”1.  One can interpret this as how much restriction these leaders should rule with, and with how these rulers should go about administering these restrictions.

Mill also references the ‘Tyranny of the Majority’ as the source of these problems as well.  On top of that, Mill also mentions that these rulers won’t just act through political authority, which “leaves fewer means for escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself”2.  Mill means to explicate the notion that this political rule does not stop at general regulation such as taxes, but has a psychological effect on the masses as well.  To clarify, rulers had rather poor relationships with the public in mid-1850s Europe.  Mill compared rulers to vultures when he said that those under rule had a “perpetual attitude of defence against his beak and claws”3, and the oppressed masses their prey.  Mill is trying to give us the perspective that these commoners had little to no communication with their ruler, which not only portrays a bad image of the ruler, but also puts the public at a disadvantage in expressing their needs and interests to those who can influence leaders and rulers.  Mill then poses the question of where the limits of power should be placed in regards to rulers and control over their people.  Mill’s suggestions allude to the idea that these should be concrete and unmoving standards.

Having previously read pieces of Machiavelli’s “The Prince”4  and agreeing with many of his concepts, I disagree with Mill’s finite standards.  Obviously Machiavelli suggests a much more dynamic system, where regulations and liberties are dependent on present circumstances.  Machiavelli also prescribes a bit of a more lax-but-distanced relationship between ruler and subject, which I find paramount in a monarchy.  You don’t want the people you rule to revolt against you, so you at least have to be somewhat receptive of their plights and opinions.  We see this fluctuation of activity in the European Union, where member states submit a monetary allotment for approval.

I believe liberties and regulations should be ever-changing; with fluctuation it is difficult to get stuck with limits that may not fit the needs of your state or your subjects should a sudden crisis occur.  More importantly this will not set any unrealistic standards for the future of your state, thus allowing you to eliminate any expectations or speculation the public may have of the future governance of their state (another important facet of “The Prince”).  I do not believe that expectations are a truly horrible thing, but in society in regards to government large expectations can sometimes lead to unrest and/or revolt if too many things are kept static.

How would you rule?  Do you think static limits and liberties are more advantageous than dynamic regulations?  Why?

  1. On Liberty, 1859 []
  2. On Liberty, 1859 []
  3. On Liberty, 1859 []
  4. The Prince, 1532 []

2 thoughts on “Standards too Static? Two Perspectives on Rule

  1. I believe that there needs to be a balance in regards to static and dynamic regulations. It would be necessary to establish core liberties that cannot be changed, such as freedom of religion and speech for example. These regulations are what you build off of and it helps give identity to your nation. But as we’ve seen with culture changing events, like the Industrial Revolution, it’s important to have a constitution that is able to keep up with the times. As you mentioned before, dynamic regulation is important to keeping the population happy and stop revolts from being formed. As I’ve learned from last semester with eager Russian Tsars, it’s important to make sure that new laws put into place are known by the population. It would be a terrible tragedy to live in a country where you are not sure if you are breaking the law or not.

  2. I thought Mills text was very interesting. He makes the concept of liberty seem so simple. Of course it is ones natural right to be free as an individual but freedom changes in relation to society. When you have to coexist with other people, the amount of freedom you have changes. It becomes difficult to standardize the rules that regulate society because society is constantly changing.

    If I were to rule I would choose the dynamic option of leadership. I think it is more effective because times are always changing. What is in style now will likely be different from what is in style ten years from now. That being said, I think there are certain rules and values that always remain, even as time changes such as freedom of speech. Granted, that right did not exist for a long time when you look back in history, but it was developed and kept as a core rule because of its importance.

    The idea of static limits vs dynamic regulations reminds me of the gun law that still exists in America to this day. In the Second Amendment of the Constitution, it states that citizens have the right to bare arms. Put into context, the existence of this law is valid, but it is no longer applicable to today. This is a very controversial topic in the US. Where is the line drawn between freedom and the safety of others?

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