The Struggle Between Liberty And Authority Philosophy Essay

“The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in portions of history” (Mill 1975: 1294). Authority, to most ages and cultures, is seen as a necessary factor within society, whether it be a sovereign or government. The struggle we see is the use of liberty as protection against political tyrants, who could suppress the rights of the individual. As protection, the people began to revolt, and doing so we ended up with the idea of a democracy, as declared in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Guelzo 1999: 372) and is seen as the rebirth of liberty. This idea seems to eradicate the idea of tyranny of the state, as it allows for the individuals to choose who resides in office and offers the idea that the individuals say, matters. However, democracy can create its own weakness, that being the “tyranny of the majority” (Mill 1975: 1296) – “the ‘people’ who exercise the power are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised” (Mill 1975: 1296) – and that the individuals liberty is still at risk to being oppressed by the power held by the majority. Does the state need the power-struggle between individuals to establish a leading governing body? Is it possible to limit government power to preserve individual liberty? Can the government intervene with private matters related to individual liberty? Finally, does the nation “need to be protected against its own will?” (Mill 1975: 1295).

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Society indulges in the idea that we have a functioning democracy, and that the modern and civilised approach of voting to establish a leader, to control the state, is the suitable method. When it comes to the idea that we use our individual liberty to determine that certain other individuals are granted authority, we offer up the choice that they can abuse their power to suppress liberty. Authority’s ability to misuse their power is something that can be seen to plague many who believe that they still have freedom to act in accordance with their own nature. However, because of civil unrest, the age in which we live in depends highly upon law enforcement, and due to this, the liberty of the people is slowly being subdued. With laws being all the more overpowering, many acts of freedom are punished. To attack our liberty in such ways opened up observations and criticisms of government, and thus the creation of the 1998 Human Rights Act. Documents and laws similar to, and including, the Human Rights Act quelled the nations’ doubts, enforcing the idea that the law is there to protect the citizens, and that freedom still exists. The aftermath of these acts allowed for civilians to elect suitable leaders for the state. However, election remains in favour of the majority, and we still see tyrannical actions of the majority over the minorities, and thus it leads to power being exercised over the individual liberties. In doing so, we see the struggle between individuals and this leads to us questioning whether we should allow majority-rule. However, majority-rule seems to be in Mill’s favour, as democracy nowadays, as written in the Declaration of Independence, allows, not only the influence of who is in office, but the ability to remove people as well:

“[T]hat whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness” (Frederic Jesup Stimson 2004: 88).

If the authority does not allow for liberty, then the voters could remove the party and replace them with people better suited to represent the individual. Allowing this power for the individual, limits how much power the authority can exercise, and thus creates the impression that liberty chooses those who allow for freedom. With this idea in mind, Mill asked “the practical question, where to place the limit” (Mill 1975: 1296), and also questioned whether it is right, at all, to have government interference. Libertarian views reside in Mill, yet it is clear to him that there must be a limit somewhere, which allows for government control over society without oppression. Can we have liberty and limitations? For Mill, yes, we need as minimal interference from the state as possible.

This minimal state interference arises from Mill’s Harm Principle – “that principle isaˆ¦ in interfering with the liberty of actionaˆ¦self-protection” (Mill 1975: 1298). The only legitimate circumstance, to Mill, under which the government can exercise power over free individuals, is to prevent harm. Crucially, Mill’s idea does question the motives of the government, and shows those who promote one’s own good to attempt to make people happy. Although Mill’s Utilitarian views on “the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness” (Mill 1897: 166), the fact is that one’s moral attempts to force happiness on other beings are not sufficient reason to abolish people’s rights to freedom, as you cannot just act to create pleasure, due to the fact it is subjective. Basing his theories upon philosopher Bentham and Mill’s father James, Mill uses Utilitarianism to create a theory that offers pleasure as the ideal outcome, and applying this to authority leads to the prevention of harm being the only legitimate interference allowed. The idea that the state protects individuals is a reliable way to live in accordance to our liberty, without the risk of harm to ourselves, or others. We, as sentient beings, majorly agree that protection from harm should be the main concern of the government. The harm principle seems to retain individual liberty and harm being prevented, which allows authority and liberty to coexist which is a positive idea produced by Mill. Mill proposes that although we have liberty, we must act in a way that “pursuing our own good in our own way so long as we don’t attempt to deprive others” (Mill 1975: 1300). This idea seems fairly naA?ve when discussed, as pleasure is preferential and differs from one person to another. Once again, although Mill argues away from the “tyranny of the majority” (Mill 1975: 1296), his principle is one in which the majority believe, and this provides a contradiction to Mill’s philosophy. The government will always rely heavily on the majority’s influence, and will act in accordance to that, regardless of the individuals’ different views. This could be seen to abolish any progress made by Mill within this aspect of political philosophy, as his conclusion of the Harm Principle seems to become a circular argument when tested against the “tyranny of the majority” (Mill 1975:1296). Does, then, the idea of harming others to encourage the safety of the majority contradict Mill’s harm principle? An example of this could be seen as the wars on terror, which occurred as a way to protect Britain, and its citizens. The majority who back the wars on terror agree with the government propaganda and that all that happens is death, terrorism and crime. However, is it right to send in troops to fight? It may be true that soldiers’ used their freewill to choose to fight for their country, yet it is surely against Mill’s view to pre-empt a strike against a nation, deeming it as protection for others. This is surely harming others for the protection of the majority. When using Mill’s Harm Principle it doesn’t seem like there can be a line between where the government can and cannot intervene. The safer option in times like these is to have stricter guidelines on government policy, which is the civil duty of the individuals to abide by, to protect themselves and others.

“A person may cause evil to others not only by his action, but by his inaction” (Mill 1975: 1299). Mill’s Harm Principle looks good on paper, but is hard to practise. Stating that the government should only intervene to prevent harm could also see a rise in the idea that the government’s lack of intervention could cause more harm than good. Is it action or inaction that Mill is talking about, and is there a set guideline for practice in his philosophy? This answer remains to be found, although Mill offers ideas about where to intervene, there is no clear understanding of what actually constitutes harm, and whether certain indications of harm should actually be interposed. Mill based his principle on subjective pleasure, “people decide according to their preference” (Mill 1975: 1298), and stated that the only intervention that is legitimate is to prevent harm. Where should the government intervene, if there is not a clear perspective on what is harmful to individuals? The state cannot simply intervene as there is no definitive definition of what is harmful, just like there is no definitive idea of what causes individuals pleasure. So harm, like pleasure, is solely preferential, and therefore you cannot offer a place for government intervention if there is no distinct idea of pleasure and harm for the individual.

Devoid of any intervention by the government unless there is harm that needs to be stopped seems like a fairly ideal way of keeping both liberty and authority in our lives. The main problems arise when it comes to the preference of one individual, as opposed to the preferences of another, even though “all men are created equalaˆ¦with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happinessaˆ¦” (Mieder 2009: 253) as stated in the Declaration of Independence, so we must all be treated as people with their own individual liberties. Mill’s subjective philosophy is hopeful, yet seems inapplicable to the modern day democracy and lifestyle in which we live. There is a need for authority, and a need for guidelines otherwise chaos will ensue, if everyone acts upon their own freewill. We cannot reject authority because anarchy, living in a constant state of fear, is not freedom.