It has been said, by persons such as Abraham Lincoln, that the cause of tyranny can oftentimes be mistaken for and promoted as the cause of liberty. If this is the case, then Americans must concern themselves most seriously with understanding what liberty is, and also what it is not.
John Stuart Mill, in what is perhaps his most famous and influential work, On Liberty, helped build the foundation for a modern understanding of freedom, one which an overwhelming number of Americans support. In doing so, he argued that for a society to be properly liberated, its citizens must be guaranteed freedom of thought and speech, liberty of tastes and pursuits, and freedom of association. Yet, expressly recognizing in the first chapter of On Liberty that these liberties were too radical without certain restrictions, he sought the boundaries within which they should exist. And by setting those particular boundaries, like so many of his followers on both the left and right do today he unwittingly destroyed the foundation for the liberty he sought in the first place. (more…)