by John Stuart Mill (1859)


  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 Government.

  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.
                             Chapter 1

  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 treatment.
  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 guard.
  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 compels 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
antisocial 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 force.
  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 of wrong as the other; the
interference of government is, with about equal frequency,
improperly invoked and improperly condemned.
  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 a 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 prima 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
  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
Systeme 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 philosophers.
  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.
                              Chapter 2.
              Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.

  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
of and so triumphantly enforced by preceding writers, that it needs
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;* 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 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.

  * 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.

  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

  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
  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 pernicious.
  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 side.
  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 mastri 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 criminal.
  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 anti-climax: 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
contemporaries, 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
  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
  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
  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,* 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,*(2) 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,*(3) for the same reason, was denied
justice against a thief.

  * Thomas Pooley, Bodmin Assizes, July 31, 1857. In December
following, he received a free pardon from the Crown.
  *(2) George Jacob Holyoake, August 17, 1857; Edward Truelove, July,
  *(3) Baron de Gleichen, Marlborough Street Police Court, August 4,

  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 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.* 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.

  * 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
Mahometans, 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 ascendancy of the
British name, and preventing the salutary growth of Christianity....
Toleration was the great corner-stone of the religious liberties of
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?

  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 general 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 interests 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
  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
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 elite 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
ascendancy 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 an 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, incrusting 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 vacant.
  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 an 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 question 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 obtain 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 it is 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 disjointed 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 assertors 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 cooperation 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 never 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
preexisting 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,
highmindedness, 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 obedience.
  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 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
coexisted 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 infallibility.
  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
  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 opinions are
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 feels much interested 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.
                               Chapter 3.
        Of Individuality, as one of the Elements of Well-being.

  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 it is 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 undervalued, 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 variety of situations"; and that from the union of these arise
"individual vigour and manifold diversity," which combine themselves
in "originality."*

  * The Sphere and Duties of Government, from the German of Baron
Wilhelm von Humboldt, pp. 11-13.

  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
  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. This 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 condition of the case, the same for
  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."* 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.

  * Sterling's Essays.

  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 the 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 hindrance.
  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 exist. 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 everrecurring 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 out 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 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 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
non-conformity, 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 it contained.
That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the
  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 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 existence 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.*

  * 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 right
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 now-a-days 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.

  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 this 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 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 of the world. What are they
now? The subjects or dependents 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 a 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 regime 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. Improvement in the means of communication promotes 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 ascendancy 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 nonconformity- any
substantive power in society which, itself opposed to the ascendancy
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.
                            Chapter 4.
     Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual.

  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 to 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 passed, 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 interest 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 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 his.
  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
resource; 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
  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,
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 or 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
  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 of 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 effect
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 of 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.* 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.

  * 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.

  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 propounded 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 a
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 can
never be too earnestly protested against. Deorum injuriae Diis
curae. 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 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 civilisade, 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
                            Chapter 5.

  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 punishment, if society is of opinion that the one or the other
is requisite for its protection.
  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 right, 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, qua
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 workpeople 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, caeteris 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 in 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 rightly 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 may be 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; of 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 a 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 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, be 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
  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 the other
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 needs 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 his 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
battlefield for sects and parties, causing the time and labour which
should have been spent in educating to be wasted in quarreling 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 classes 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
  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 classes 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
  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 employes 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 these 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
regime, 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 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 tribunals 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

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