One of the more remarkable, if controversial, developments in Anglo-American society over the past century has been the transformation of liberal politics from a commitment to limited government toward the progressive expansion of governmental direction of the social process. John Stuart Mill was a pivotal figure in that transformation. His self-avowed “eclecticism” allowed him to retain something of a commitment to classical liberalism, and he never completely abandoned the belief in a limited political sphere that characterizes that outlook. But Mill muddied the waters of classical-liberal philosophy and practice by his conviction that the end of government is the all-encompassing “improvement of mankind” and not the preservation of individual liberty-under-law, as well as by his self-conscious embrace and advocacy of the “social” moral ideal. Moreover, Mill’s ambition to replace the theologically oriented society of the Western tradition with one grounded in and oriented exclusively toward Humanity necessarily entailed a departure from classical liberalism. For individual liberty-under-law, as historically understood in the West, is crucially and inseparably wed to the belief in a law higher than the enactments of mankind, as well as to the sanctity of the person that derives from his or her source in God. In short, Mill’s attempt to replace God with Humanity not only eviscerates the higher-law tradition crucial to the preservation of individual liberty and limited government but their spiritual foundation as well. For it is the transcendent spiritual purpose of each human being that, historically and existentially, engendered and sustains resistance to the pretensions of merely political power. When “Humanity” is elevated to the ultimate source and end of value, the political rulers become, in effect if not in name, the new gods.
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