John Stuart Mill Still Looking Fresh at 200


Via Arts & Letters Daily comes Richard Reeves' comprehensive portrait in the UK's Prospect of John Stuart Mill, "the greatest public intellectual in British history."

Mill is a complicated figure and one who does not map perfectly onto contemporary political discourse (either here or in England) but there's little doubt that he's a major influence on libertarianism. His exhortations about allowing "experiments in living," free speech, and more are well worth puzzling over, even if he does go squirrely (IMO) at times. Reeves' profile, written in anticipation of Mill's 200th birthday, is excellent precisely because it doesn't seek to simplify the godson of Jeremy Bentham (aye yi yi!) but rather contemplate JSM in his complexity, contradictions, etc. A snippet:

He was an early master of the soundbite: "Better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied"; "There remain no legal slaves except the mistress of every house"…

He addressed a number of issues and in a fashion that remains topical–often startlingly so. When is freedom of speech trumped by national security? What is the place of religion in secular politics? When and on what basis can the state interfere in the behaviour of individuals? How should gambling, drinking and prostitution be licensed or regulated? Mill was asking and answering these questions 150 years ago.

Whole thing here.