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John Stuart Mill and the Frontiers of Freedom: Free Speech and Individualism as Panacea

A practical look at the practice and philosophy of freedom. Why John Stuart Mill’s brand of individualism is as relevant today as ever.

John Stuart Mill's philosophy underpins generations of progress in civil liberties and free speech

If you want freedom, you can’t deny it to others. If you want to be respected, trusted, and treated like an adult, you have to respect and trust others.

In 1859, in his seminal work On Libertythe English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote:

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 or 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.

None of us has the option to love and value democracy, free-speech, and liberty on the condition that others must think and act like us. And the place to start practicing is with ourselves and our closest relationships.

To what extent are you denying freedom to those around you? To what extent are you denying it to yourself?

Instead of obstructing, imposing your beliefs (no matter how well-reasoned and well-meaning), and criticizing, help us to:

  • Learn responsibility
  • Practice ethical decision-making
  • Tell our own stories
  • Tell the truth
  • Make mistakes and learn from them
  • Take care of ourselves and others
  • Steward the contents of our own minds
  • Grow and change
  • Lean into conflict
  • Learn to listen
  • Set boundaries
  • Speak out
  • Participate

This is how we get there. And this is how we arrive together.

This post could be considered a continuation of my earlier post, The Practice of Freedom. It’s one of my favorites, and worth a look-see.

Featured image is John Stuart Mill by London Stereoscopic Company, c. 1870.