John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all dealt with the issue of political freedom within a society. John Locke’s “The Second Treatise of Government”, Mill’s “On Liberty”, and Rousseau’s “Discourse On The Origins of Inequality” are influential and compelling literary works which while outlining the conceptual framework of each thinker’s ideal state present divergent visions of the very nature of man and his freedom.
The three have somewhat different views regarding how much freedom man ought to have in political society because they have different views regarding man’s basic potential for inherently good or evil behavior, as well as the ends or purpose of political societies. In order to examine how each thinker views man and the freedom he should have in a political society, it is necessary to define freedom or liberty from each philosopher’s perspective.
John Locke states his belief that all men exist in “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and person as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man. ” (Ebenstein 373) Locke believes that man exists in a state of nature and thus exists in a state of uncontrollable liberty, which has only the law of nature, or reason, to restrict it. (Ebenstein 374) However, Locke does state that man does not have the license to destroy himself or any other creature in his possession unless a legitimate purpose requires it.
Locke emphasizes the ability and opportunity to own and profit from property as necessary for being free. John Stuart Mill defines liberty in relation to three spheres; each successive sphere progressively encompasses and defines more elements relating to political society. The first sphere consists of the individuals “inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscious 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. Ebenstein 532)
The second sphere of Mill’s definition encompasses the general freedoms which allow an individual to freely peruse a “… life to suit our own character; of doing as we like… ” (Ebenstein 533) Mill also states that these freedoms must not be interfered with by “fellow creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them… ” (Ebenstein 533), The final sphere of Mill’s definition of liberty is a combination of the first two.
He states that “… the freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others: the persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced and or deceived. Ebenstein 535) Rousseau thought that man was born weak and ignorant, but virtuous. It is only when man became sociable that they became wicked. (Cress, 80) Since civil society makes men corrupt, Rousseau advocated “general will”, more precisely the combined wills of each person, to decide public affairs. General will would become the sovereign and thus it would be impossible for its interests to conflict with the priorities of the citizens, since this would be doing harm to itself.
Virtue came from the freedom of men to make decisions for the good of the community. The general will meant giving up individual rights for the betterment of the collective group. Therefore civil liberties were an oxymoron, since civilized society needed laws and rules to function, while liberty was the freedom to act as one pleased. It is therefore impossible to reconcile the natural man with the citizen. So it was responsibility of the government to attain freedom, equality, and justice for all its citizens.
Since the definitions they present in their respective literature are distinct from one another, when each philosopher refers to freedom or liberty they are not citing the same concept. This distinction is necessary when comparing their positions regarding the amount of freedom man should have in a political society. What one philosopher considers an overt or perverse abuse of liberty the other may consider the action completely legitimate and justifiable. John Locke believes that men should be virtually unrestricted and free in political society.
Locke’s rational for this position lies in the twin foundation of man’s naturally good inclinations and the specific and limited ends Locke believes political societies ought to have. According to Locke the only freedoms man should lose when entering into a political society are to judge and punish those who infringe on his liberty and estate. (Ebenstein 381) In Locke’s ideal society this fails to limit or remove any freedom from the individual, it only removes the responsibility of protecting these freedoms from the individual and places it on the state.
John Stuart Mill believes that men should be strictly limited in political society. Mill differs from Locke in the basic principle that individual who enjoy the benefits of living in political societies owe a return for the protection society offers. Mill believes for society to function properly, conduct of societies members should “not injure the interests of one another; or rather certain interests; which either by express legal provision, or by tacit understanding, ought to be considered rights” (Ebenstein 537) Mill furthers this statement by proclaiming that society may go even further.
As soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects prejudicial the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the general question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering in it, becomes open to discussion. ” (Ebenstein 537) This declaration virtually allows the state the authority to intervene in every instance of human interaction and have total power to alter the exchange as it sees fit. If this function of the state is considered supreme or is allowed jurisdiction over even the first sphere of freedoms, any further discussion of liberty is ineffective and redundant.
Mill clearly seeks to limit the freedom of men and guaranteeing some measure of residual power to be exercised by the state at will. Having examined the level or amount of freedom Locke, Rousseau, and Mill advocate for man in political society, a closer examination of the rational or reasoning which they used to develop their position will clarify the issue further. The view of man and his natural inclination toward good or evil is crucial and fundamental in the formation of their views regarding political society in general and how much freedom man should have in it.
The importance of this issue lies in their ability to legitimize their conclusions about society based on the necessity of accommodating the natural inclinations of man. Tyranny can easily be justified under the guise of protecting the weak from the natural predatory tendencies of stronger men. Locke and Rousseau are adamant in their declaration that man is naturally inclined toward good. Locke’s belief in the value of man and his ability to act independently in compliance with natural law contributed more to his views regarding freedom than did his positions regarding the function of the state.
Several positions which Locke and Rousseau hold to be true regarding man warrant this conclusion. First is Locke’s definition of the state of nature as “men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth with authority to judge between them…” (Ebenstein 375) Secondly Locke’s contention that in the state of nature that man has the right to punish “the crime for restraint and preventing the like offense, which right of punishing is in everybody; the other of taking reparation, which belongs only to the injured party… Ebenstein 376) Locke does not halt the rights of men to punish transgressions against them, this right of all men in a state of nature even if it entails the “power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing he like injury, which no reparation can compensate… ” (Ebenstein 376)
However Locke does recognize that the right of punishing of transgressions against oneself has great potential and temptation for abuse and corruption this is why Locke contends, “God has certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men. Ebenstein 382) Locke’s definite optimism concerning the nature of man is clearly transferred to his opinion regarding man’s freedom in political society. John Stuart Mill does not have the same optimistic view of the nature of man that Locke holds. However, he clearly has more faith in humans than the portrait Thomas Hobbes presents of man in Leviathan. A case can be made for Mill’s negative view of humans because of his utilitarian themes throughout “On Liberty” which implies that if left to their own devices man will peruse his own interests even at the costs of his fellow man.
Mill does not make a clear declaration exalting or condemning the nature of man. However, Mill does make clearly negative statements about the nature of man. “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. ” (Ebenstein 559) Mill’s insinuation that the free and unrestricted actions of men can cause conflict is to be expected nonetheless it disguises Mill’s true position on man’s nature.
This subtle inference to the use of spontaneity and individuality as a method of ordering one’s actions somehow uns contrary to the social principle, and shows a clear mistrust of man’s unrestricted and uninhibited side. Another crucial factor that undoubtedly influenced the amount of freedom Mill and Locke believed man ought to have in political society is their view regarding the purpose of the state. Mill and Locke held completely opposite views regarding who should benefit from the existence of the state the individual or the community.
According to Locke men are driven to congregate and form societies for “necessity, connivance and inclination… (Ebenstein 382) Locke believes that the purpose or end of the state is to provide the necessities and convinces which drove men to form communities. The state for all intents and purposes is designed to serve the individual and provide a free and unrestricted environment in which man who is naturally free may prosper and own property.
The constant threat of interference by other men in a man’s freedom and enjoyment of his property has driven men to seek the safety of a community which exists “for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties, and estates which I call by the general name “property”. (Ebenstein 382) Mill contends the collective interests of the community render greater reward than the promotion of individual interests. Rousseau also shared this view.
To Rousseau, liberty meant voice and participation. The use of the general will of the people to dictate the affairs of the state would ensure that individual liberties would be protected. The active participation by the citizens of the society, in Rousseau’s view, would lead to a full and moral life. In order to preserve voice, participation, and the morality of their society, Rousseau’s citizens would have no problem giving up some of the liberties that John Locke views as essential.
All three philosophers have left an indelible mark on the concept of freedom in political societies. John Locke favors greater freedom for man in political society than Mill does. Rousseau favors more political freedom that personal freedom. Locke’s views simply stem from his faith in man and his potential to succeed independently, which collectively promotes the prosperity of the state.
Mill does not implicitly trust or distrust man and therefore does not explicitly limit freedom, in fact he does define freedom in very liberal terms, however he does leave the potential for unlimited intervention into the personal freedoms of the individual by the state. This nullifies any freedoms or rights individuals are said to have because they subject to the whims and fancy of the state. All three beliefs regarding the nature of man and the purpose of the state are bound to their respective views regarding freedom, because one position perpetuates and demands a conclusion regarding another.