POL320Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 13: On Liberty, Montesquieu, Wield

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February 8 2017 Lecture Mill
arguments from On Liberty are applied logic from utilitarianism (but in a round about
way)
when or how is it legitimate for the state to wield power over individual?
occasion for legitimate intrusion or use of political power is for social protection (to
prevent harm)
strong belief in progress, carries in work an idea that in the long run the logic of history
runs in a progressive history and truth will always win out
idea of happiness of human kind, greatest good for greatest number
o importance and necessity of progress
work appears to defend need to protect sphere of independent ideas (freedom of
conscious)
o this is an argument based on the notion of individual right
o not everyone has a right to an opinion, but everyone has the right to develop an
opinion (ie. not all opinions are correct)
practically, protects basic rights of protections
justified by saying that everyone can express themselves
provides us with an opportunity to ask a question of political theory
does it matter how we justify a stance? yes!
o hint why: Mills defence of freedom of expression is radical,
but this sphere of freedom makes it possible to run into the
difficulty of free and unregulated expression (can do the
opposite of freedom of expression)
o thinking about techniques that close down discussions and
minds
o does this sphere of freedom work against broader idea of
progress (ex. fake news)
o there is tension in mills position
any individual can express their individual opinions
if it doesn't harm anyone vs. position that is most
condusive to the development of truth and
wellbeing
suggests focus is on liberty, what are the natures and limits of power?
o two most important ground for liberty are freedom of thought and free
development of individuality (experiments in living)
o there are two threats to liberty political and social tyranny
struggle for liberty against political tyranny (abuse of political power)
think of Montesquieu, a feeling of security against oppressive
rulers (rights based theory, think John Locke, sphere that
governments can influence)
idea of democracy should ensure accountability of parliament to
people
o but this move to democratic representation generated a
certain tension within political institutions
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liberalism vs. democracy
how is that a tension?
once a government sees itself as a direct rep
for the people, takes on a
force/unity/legitimacy of its own
liberalism is a force that suggests power has
to be separated, contained, controlled vs.
theories of democracy (think of Rousseau’s
general will)
government thinks they are justified to
exercise power in however they want
specifically because there is a process of
democracy
o think of the US Trump thinks he
has direct authority to enact the
principles he seems fit because he
was elected through a democratic
process
Mill thinks that people see progress as thinking of
government as a direct emanation of the people, this
kind of faith is in opposition of the reality of the
representative gov with a different interest from the
general will
different position than the will of the people
o despite democratic positions, the people in government can
still oppress minorities by following the will of the majority
o identify real danger of a democratic context: tyranny of the
majority (2 versions)
1) democratic majority vote in someone who abuses
power to oppress others
2) informal ways that tyranny can work through
social tyranny
o pg. 8 “society does exercise its own mandates”
o pressure to conform is more dangerous sometimes than
political pressure
o protections
1) against oppressive political tyranny (political
liberty needs protected)
2) forces of social tyranny, opinion, conduct, and
tendencies (civil liberty needs protected)
Mill vs. Burke
o Mill: we need to have a generalized suspicion toward custom that might influence
how we live in society
customs are an enemy to liberty
lures people to live in patterns that keep them locked into certain
positions and render them unreflective
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