Published Humanitas, Volume XV, No. 1, 2002

John Stuart Mill and the Religion of Humanity, by Linda C. Raeder. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002. 402 pp. $49.95.

I first encountered John Stuart Mill in an undergraduate political theory survey course. As I recall, the class read selections from On Liberty and the instructor emphasized that this treatise was the locus classicus for the defense of free speech, individuality, and toleration, the basic values of the genuinely open society. I encountered Mill again in a graduate school seminar devoted exclusively to his writings, primarily his political works. We examined with care On Liberty, Representative Government, and Utilitarianism. At this point I began, however dimly, to perceive problems. For instance, we were asked to write a short paper on how Mill, if he had been a Supreme Court justice, would have ruled in the Dennis case—a relatively early “cold war” case involving the conviction of communist leaders under the Smith Act on the charge of “conspiring to advocate” the overthrow of the government. I don’t recall where I came down on this question, but I do recall that his teachings regarding the acceptable range of individual liberty seemed to be somewhat contradictory. At the very least they raised legitimate questions that Mill did not address in the essay. To be sure, there is the “one very simple principle” statement up front, the one so dear to libertarians, that seems to limit any interference with another’s liberty by the state…

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