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” ((On Liberty, 1859)).  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” ((On Liberty, 1859)).  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” ((On Liberty, 1859)), 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” ((The Prince, 1532))  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?

Ideals of Liberty

The Marquis de Condorcet and John Stuart Mill were philosophers concerned with the idea of liberty and governments. Condorcet was a Frenchman writing during the time of the French revolution, undoubtedly inspired by the values of the revolution and the Enlightenment, putting reason above all else and valuing the progression of nations towards equality. He advocated for liberties that resembled the U.S. Bill of Rights, that is freedom of speech and press, abolition of torture, a simpler civil code and ensuring the security of innocent people. ((Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, 1795. Mill focused his writing on the struggle between liberty and authority and how this progression had changed government forms over time, as well as his views on individual liberties. He thought that human’s needed to have liberty of individual thought, liberty of one’s tastes and pursuits and the liberty to unite with others for a purpose that does not harm other people. ((John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1869.

Condorcet and Mill have similar views on what liberties individuals are entitled to, mainly focusing on freedom of individual thought and opinion, as well as the fact that they were both known to be advocates for women’s rights, which was unique for men of their time. In 1795, when Condorcet was writing, women and many men did not have access to many of the liberties he discussed and this had not changed substantially in 1869 when Mill was writing in England. Mill was addressing the lack of these issues over seventy years later, implying that most individuals still did not have access to them.

There is still a lot of talk today about inequalities between men and women, with the obvious example being that women make 79 cents for every dollar made by a man. Women have made great strides in equality since Condorcet and Mill were writing but there is still a ways to go. Condorcet says at the beginning of his writing that the “perfectibility of man in indefinite”, do you think we will ever achieve full equality between men and women? ((Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, 1795. Or between all members of society?

John Stuart Mill and Utilitarian Equality

Author- John Stuart Mill, lived from 1806- 1873, English philosopher, member of British Parliament, firm believer in utilitarianism, wife Harriet Taylor Mill was a women’s rights advocate and aided in his writings

Context- Written in 1869, the belief at the time was that women were subordinate to the men in their lives, not much support for women’s right to vote
Language- Attempts to apply logic to the situation, since he is making claims that there is no evidence behind not giving women rights he works towards creating a humanitarian angle that shows the logic behind equality
Audience- Written to enlighten the public but also to gain support in Parliament, he was in the minority when attempting to pass women’s rights into British law
Intent- Mills saw that the public believed that women were not able to accomplish as much as men and attempted to explain that they have never been given opportunities to show otherwise, wanted to convince the public (and Parliament) that women deserved similar opportunities to exhibit their equal societal worth
Message- Mills’s belief in utilitarianism is the root behind all of his claims in this writing, he believed that intellectual and voting opportunity would create a better society for everyone where everyone could defend their rights, he wanted to show that individual development would raise society overall
“That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes–the legal subordination of one sex to the other–is wrong itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other.” – Mills
This quote directly proves his utilitarian point- of- view regarding this issue as he specifically says that not allowing the advancements of women is detrimental to humanity as a whole. His argument revolved around how women deserved these rights and giving those rights is a societal duty to increase the standard of living for everyone.

The Subjection of Women

Author: John Stuart Mill was an Englishman, living from 1806 to 1873. He worked as a philosopher, political economist, civil servant, and member of Parliament. Taught by his father, he experienced a rigorous, home-schooled education. His close relationship with his wife influenced his writings on women’s rights. Mill was an atheist.

Context: 1869. Britain was prosperous and was continuing to experience effects of industrial revolution. During period of British imperialism.

Language: Mill writes in a tone that is intelligent, thought-provoking, and subjective. He includes many hypothetical questions in this work in an attempt to make his readers understand his point of view. Furthermore, he admits in many instances throughout his paper that many people may disagree with him.

Audience: Mill writes for a well-educated audience, and having been well-educated himself, he incorporates some challenging concepts and vocabulary. He appeals mainly to men, for they are the only ones with enough power capable of changing the situation at hand.

Intent: The purpose of The Subjection of Women is to make society aware of the unjust inequalities between the sexes, and also the wide range of capabilities that women possess.

Message: Women are born into subordination, and this subordination extends into marriage, where they have no property rights or control over their children. Mill makes the argument that equality in the institution of marriage would be beneficial to the happiness of both men and women, and would further society’s progress. He mentions that religion imposes obedience on women. Circumstances and education are the factors that explain the psychological differences between men and women. Mill recognizes that women, given that they have adequate education, possess capabilities that would allow them to hold positions of responsibility in society.