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THE subject of this Essay is not the so-called Liberty
of the Will, so unfortunately opposed to the mis-
named doctrine of Philosophical Necessity; but Civil,
or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which
can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.
A question seldom stated, and hardly ever discussed, in gen-
eral terms, but which profoundly influences the practical
controversies of the age by its latent presence, and is likely
soon to make itself recognized as the vital question of the
future. It is so far from being new, that, in a certain sense,
it has divided mankind, almost from the remotest ages, but
in the stage of progress into which the more civilized por-
tions of the species have now entered, it presents itself
under new conditions, and requires a different and more fun-
damental treatment.

The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most
conspicuous feature in the portions of history with which
we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome,
and England. But in old times this contest was between
subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the government.
By liberty, was meant protection against the tyranny of the
political rulers. The rulers were conceived (except in some
of the popular governments of Greece) as in a necessarily
antagonistic position to the people whom they ruled. They
consisted of a governing One, or a governing tribe or caste,
who derived their authority from inheritance or conquest;
who, at all events, did not hold it at the pleasure of the gov-
erned, and whose supremacy men did not venture, perhaps
did not desire, to contest, whatever precautions might be
taken against its oppressive exercise. Their power was re-
garded as necessary, but also as highly dangerous; as a
weapon which they would attempt to use against their sub-
jects, no less than against external enemies. To prevent
the weaker members of the community from being preyed
upon by innumerable vultures, it was needful that there
should be an animal of prey stronger than the rest, commis-
sioned to keep them down. But as the king of the vultures
would be no less bent upon preying upon the flock than any
of the minor harpies, it was indispensable to be in a per-
petual attitude of defence against his beak and claws. The
aim, therefore, of patriots, was to set limits to the power
which the ruler should be suffered to exercise over the
community; and this limitation was what they meant by
liberty. It was attempted in two ways. First, by obtaining
a recognition of certain immunities, called political liberties
or rights, which it was to be regarded as a breach of duty
in the ruler to infringe, and which, if he did infringe, specific
resistance, or general rebellion, was held to be justifiable. A
second, and generally a later expedient, was the establish-
ment of constitutional checks; by which the consent of the
community, or of a body of some sort supposed to represent
its interests, was made a necessary condition to some of the
more important acts of the governing power. To the first
of these modes of limitation, the ruling power, in most
European countries, was compelled, more or less, to submit.
It was not so with the second; and to attain this, or when
already in some degree possessed, to attain it more com-
pletely, became everywhere the principal object of the lovers
of liberty. And so long as mankind were content to combat
one enemy by another, and to be ruled by a master, on con-
dition of being guaranteed more or less efficaciously against
his tyranny, they did not carry their aspirations beyond this

A time, however, came in the progress of human affairs,
when men ceased to think it a necessity of nature that their
governors should be an independent power, opposed in in-
terest to themselves. It appeared to them much better that
the various magistrates of the State should be their tenants
or delegates, revocable at their pleasure. In that way alone,
it seemed, could they have complete security that the powers
of government would never be abused to their disadvan-
tage. By degrees, this new demand for elective and tem-
porary rulers became the prominent object of the exertions
of the popular party, wherever any such party existed; and
superseded, to a considerable extent, the previous efforts to
limit the power of rulers. As the struggle proceeded for
making the ruling power emanate from the periodical choice
of the ruled, some persons began to think that too much im-
portance had been attached to the limitation of the power
itself. That (it might seem) was a resource against rulers
whose interests were habitually opposed to those of the peo-
ple. What was now wanted was, that the rulers should be
identified with the people; that their interest and will should
be the interest and will of the nation. The nation did not
need to be protected against its own will. There was no
fear of its tyrannizing over itself. Let the rulers be ef-
fectually responsible to it, promptly removable by it, and it
could afford to trust them with power of which it could itself
dictate the use to be made. Their power was but the nation's
own power, concentrated, and in a form convenient for ex-
ercise. This mode of thought, or rather perhaps of feeling,
was common among the last generation of European liberal-
ism, in the Continental section of which, it still apparently
predominates. Those who admit any limit to what a gov-
ernment may do, except in the case of such governments
as they think ought not to exist, stand out as brilliant ex-
ceptions among the political thinkers of the Continent. A
similar tone of sentiment might by this time have been
prevalent in our own country, if the circumstances which
for a time encouraged it had continued unaltered.

But, in political and philosophical theories, as well as in
persons, success discloses faults and infirmities which failure
might have concealed from observation. The notion, that
the people have no need to limit their power over themselves,
might seem axiomatic, when popular government was a thing
only dreamed about, or read of as having existed at some
distant period of the past. Neither was that notion neces-
sarily disturbed by such temporary aberrations as those of
the French Revolution, the worst of which were the work
of an usurping few, and which, in any case, belonged, not
to the permanent working of popular institutions, but to a
sudden and convulsive outbreak against monarchical and
aristocratic despotism. In time, however, a democratic
republic came to occupy a large portion of the earth's sur-
face, and made itself felt as one of the most powerful mem-
bers of the community of nations; and elective and respon-
sible government became subject to the observations and
criticisms which wait upon a great existing fact. It was
now perceived that such phrases as "self-government," and
"the power of the people over themselves," do not express
the true state of the case. The "people" who exercise the
power, are not always the same people with those over whom
it is exercised, and the "self-government" spoken of, is not
the government of each by himself, but of each by all the
rest. The will of the people, moreover, practically means,
the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the
people; the majority, or those who succeed in making them-
selves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently,
may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precau-
tions are as much needed against this, as against any other
abuse of power. The limitation, therefore, of the power of
government over individuals, loses none of its importance
when the holders of power are regularly accountable to the
community, that is, to the strongest party therein. This view
of things, recommending itself equally to the intelligence
of thinkers and to the inclination of those important classes
in European society to whose real or supposed interests de-
mocracy is adverse, has had no difficulty in establishing itself;
and in political speculations "the tyranny of the majority"
is now generally included among the evils against which
society requires to be on its guard.

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at
first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operat-
ing through the acts of the public authorities. But reflect-
ing persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant
--society collectively, over the separate individuals who
compose it--its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the
acts which it may do by the hands of its political function-
aries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and
if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any man-
dates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it
practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds
of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by
such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, pen-
etrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslav-
ing the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny
of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also
against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling;
against the tendency of society to impose, by other means
than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of
conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the de-
velopment, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any in-
dividuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all
characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its
own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of col-
lective opinion with individual independence; and to find
that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as in-
dispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protec-
tion against political despotism.

But though this proposition is not likely to be contested
in general terms, the practical question, where to place the
limit--how to make the fitting adjustment between individ-
ual independence and social control--is a subject on which
nearly everything remains to be done. All that makes exist-
ence valuable to any one, depends on the enforcement of
restraints upon the actions of other people. Some rules of
conduct, therefore, must be imposed, by law in the first
place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit sub-
jects for the operation of law. What these rules should be,
is the principal question in human affairs; but if we except
a few of the most obvious cases, it is one of those which
least progress has been made in resolving. No two ages,
and scarcely any two countries, have decided it alike; and
the decision of one age or country is a wonder to another.
Yet the people of any given age and country no more sus-
pect any difficulty in it, than if it were a subject on which
mankind had always been agreed. The rules which obtain
among themselves appear to them self-evident and self-
justifying. This all but universal illusion is one of the
examples of the magical influence of custom, which is not only,
as the proverb says a second nature, but is continually mis-
taken for the first. The effect of custom, in preventing any
misgiving respecting the rules of conduct which mankind
impose on one another, is all the more complete because the
subJect is one on which it is not generally considered neces-
sary that reasons should be given, either by one person to
others, or by each to himself. People are accustomed to believe
and have been encouraged in the belief by some who aspire
to the character of philosophers, that their feelings, on sub-
jects of this nature, are better than reasons, and render
reasons unnecessary. The practical principle which guides
them to their opinions on the regulation of human conduct,
is the feeling in each person's mind that everybody should
be required to act as he, and those with whom he sympathizes,
would like them to act. No one, indeed, acknowledges to
himself that his standard of judgment is his own liking; but
an opinion on a point of conduct, not supported by reasons,
can only count as one person's preference; and if the reasons,
when given, are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt
by other people, it is still only many people's liking instead
of one. To an ordinary man, however, his own preference,
thus supported, is not only a perfectly satisfactory reason,
but the only one he generally has for any of his notions of
morality, taste, or propriety, which are not expressly written
in his religious creed; and his chief guide in the inter-
pretation even of that. Men's opinions, accordingly, on what
is laudable or blamable, are affected by all the multifari-
ous causes which influence their wishes in regard to the
conduct of others, and which are as numerous as those
which determine their wishes on any other subject. Some-
times their reason--at other times their prejudices or super-
stitions: often their social affections, not seldom their anti-
social ones, their envy or jealousy, their arrogance or con-
temptuousness: but most commonly, their desires or fears
for themselves--their legitimate or illegitimate self-interest.
Wherever there is an ascendant class, a large portion of
the morality of the country emanates from its class interests,
and its feelings of class superiority. The morality between
Spartans and Helots, between planters and negroes, between
princes and subjects, between nobles and roturiers, between
men and women, has been for the most part the creation of
these class interests and feelings: and the sentiments thus
generated, react in turn upon the moral feelings of the mem-
bers of the ascendant class, in their relations among them-
selves. Where, on the other hand, a class, formerly as-
cendant, has lost its ascendency, or where its ascendency is
unpopular, the prevailing moral sentiments frequently bear
the impress of an impatient dislike of superiority. Another
grand determining principle of the rules of conduct, both
in act and forbearance which have been enforced by law or
opinion, has been the servility of mankind towards the sup-
posed preferences or aversions of their temporal masters,
or of their gods. This servility though essentially selfish, is
not hypocrisy; it gives rise to perfectly genuine sentiments
of abhorrence; it made men burn magicians and heretics.
Among so many baser influences, the general and obvious
interests of society have of course had a share, and a large
one, in the direction of the moral sentiments: less, however,
as a matter of reason, and on their own account, than as a
consequence of the sympathies and antipathies which grew
out of them: and sympathies and antipathies which had
little or nothing to do with the interests of society, have
made themselves felt in the establishment of moralities with
quite as great force.

The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful
portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically
determined the rules laid down for general observance, un-
der the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those
who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling,
have left this condition of things unassailed in principle,
however they may have come into conflict with it in some of
its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring
what things society ought to like or dislike, than in question-
ing whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to in-
dividuals. They preferred endeavouring to alter the feelings
of mankind on the particular points on which they were
themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in
defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case
in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and
maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here
and there, is that of religious belief: a case instructive in
many ways, and not least so as forming a most striking in-
stance of the fallibility of what is called the moral sense:
for the odium theologicum, in a sincere bigot, is one of the
most unequivocal cases of moral feeling. Those who first
broke the yoke of what called itself the Universal Church,
were in general as little willing to permit difference of relig-
ious opinion as that church itself. But when the heat of
the conflict was over, without giving a complete victory to
any party, and each church or sect was reduced to limit its
hopes to retaining possession of the ground it already oc-
cupied; minorities, seeing that they had no chance of be-
coming majorities, were under the necessity of pleading to
those whom they could not convert, for permission to
differ. It is accordingly on this battle-field, almost solely,
that the rights of the individual against society have been as-
serted on broad grounds of principle, and the claim of
society to exercise authority over dissentients openly con-
troverted. The great writers to whom the world owes what
religious liberty it possesses, have mostly asserted freedom
of conscience as an indefeasible right, and denied absolutely
that a human being is accountable to others for his relig-
ious belief. Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in what-
ever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly
anywhere been practically realized, except where religious
indifference, which dislikes to have its peace disturbed by
theological quarrels, has added its weight to the scale.
In the minds of almost all religious persons, even in the most
tolerant countries, the duty of toleration is admitted with
tacit reserves. One person will bear with dissent in matters
of church government, but not of dogma; another can
tolerate everybody, short of a Papist or an Unitarian; an-
other, every one who believes in revealed religion; a few
extend their charity a little further, but stop at the belief
in a God and in a future state. Wherever the sentiment of
the majority is still genuine and intense, it is found to have
abated little of its claim to be obeyed.

In England, from the peculiar circumstances of our
political history, though the yoke of opinion is perhaps
heavier, that of law is lighter, than in most other countries
of Europe; and there is considerable jealousy of direct in-
terference, by the legislative or the executive power with
private conduct; not so much from any just regard for the
independence of the individual, as from the still subsisting
habit of looking on the government as representing an op-
posite interest to the public. The majority have not yet
learnt to feel the power of the government their power, or
its opinions their opinions. When they do so, individual
liberty will probably be as much exposed to invasion from
the government, as it already is from public opinion. But,
as yet, there is a considerable amount of feeling ready to be
called forth against any attempt of the law to control indi-
viduals in things in which they have not hitherto been ac-
customed to be controlled by it; and this with very little
discrimination as to whether the matter is, or is not, within
the legitimate sphere of legal control; insomuch that the
feeling, highly salutary on the whole, is perhaps quite as
often misplaced as well grounded in the particular instances
of its application.

There is, in fact, no recognized principle by which the
propriety or impropriety of government interference is cus-
tomarily tested. People decide according to their personal
preferences. Some, whenever they see any good to be done,
or evil to be remedied, would willingly instigate the govern-
ment to undertake the business; while others prefer to bear
almost any amount of social evil, rather than add one to
the departments of human interests amenable to govern-
mental control. And men range themselves on one or the
other side in any particular case, according to this general
direction of their sentiments; or according to the degree
of interest which they feel in the particular thing which it is
proposed that the government should do; or according to
the belief they entertain that the government would, or
would not, do it in the manner they prefer; but very rarely
on account of any opinion to which they consistently ad-
here, as to what things are fit to be done by a government.
And it seems to me that, in consequence of this absence of
rule or principle, one side is at present as often wrong as
the other; the interference of government is, with about
equal frequency, improperly invoked and improperly con-

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple
principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of
society with the individual in the way of compulsion and
control, whether the means used be physical force in the
form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public
opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which man-
kind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfer-
ing with the liberty of action of any of their number, is
self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can
be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized com-
munity, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His
own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient war-
rant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear
because it will be better for him to do so, because it will
make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do
so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons
for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or per-
suading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him,
or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To
justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter
him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else.
The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is
amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the
part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of
right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind,
the individual is sovereign.

It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine
is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of
their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of
young persons below the age which the law may fix as that
of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state
to require being taken care of by others, must be protected
against their own actions as well as against external in-
jury. For the same reason, we may leave out of considera-
tion those backward states of society in which the race
itself may be considered as in its nonage. The early diffi-
culties in the way of spontaneous progress are so great, that
there is seldom any choice of means for overcoming them;
and a ruler full of the spirit of improvement is warranted
in the use of any expedients that will attain an end, per-
haps otherwise unattainable. Despotism is a legitimate
mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided
the end be their improvement, and the means justified by
actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no
application to any state of things anterior to the time when
mankind have become capable of being improved by free
and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them
but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if
they are so fortunate as to find one. But as soon as man-
kind have attained the capacity of being guided to their own
improvement by conviction or persuasion (a period long
since reached in all nations with whom we need here con-
cern ourselves), compulsion, either in the direct form or in
that of pains and penalties for non-compliance, is no longer
admissible as a means to their own good, and justifiable only
for the security of others.

It is proper to state that I forego any advantage which
could be derived to my argument from the idea of abstract
right as a thing independent of utility. I regard utility as
the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions; but it must be
utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent
interests of man as a progressive being. Those interests, I
contend, authorize the subjection of individual spontaneity
to external control, only in respect to those actions of each,
which concern the interest of other people. If any one
does an act hurtful to others, there is a prima facie case for
punishing him, by law, or, where legal penalties are not
safely applicable, by general disapprobation. There are also
many positive acts for the benefit of others, which he may
rightfully be compelled to perform; such as, to give evi-
dence in a court of justice; to bear his fair share in the
common defence, or in any other joint work necessary to
the interest of the society of which he enjoys the protection;
and to perform certain acts of individual beneficence, such
as saving a fellow-creature's life, or interposing to protect
the defenceless against ill-usage, things which whenever it
is obviously a man's duty to do, he may rightfully be made
responsible to society for not doing. A person may cause
evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction,
and in neither case he is justly accountable to them for the
injury. The latter case, it is true, requires a much more
cautious exercise of compulsion than the former. To make
any one answerable for doing evil to others, is the rule; to
make him answerable for not preventing evil, is, com-
paratively speaking, the exception. Yet there are many
cases clear enough and grave enough to justify that ex-
ception. In all things which regard the external relations
of the individual, he is de jure amenable to those whose
interests are concerned, and if need be, to society as their
protector. There are often good reasons for not holding
him to the responsibility; but these reasons must arise from
the special expediencies of the case: either because it is a
kind of case in which he is on the whole likely to act better,
when left to his own discretion, than when controlled in
any way in which society have it in their power to control
him; or because the attempt to exercise control would pro-
duce other evils, greater than those which it would prevent.
When such reasons as these preclude the enforcement of
responsibility, the conscience of the agent himself should
step into the vacant judgment-seat, and protect those inter-
ests of others which have no external protection; judging
himself all the more rigidly, because the case does not admit
of his being made accountable to the judgment of his fellow-

But there is a sphere of action in which society, as dis-
tinguished from the individual, has, if any, only an indirect
interest; comprehending all that portion of a person's life
and conduct which affects only himself, or, if it also affects
others, only with their free, voluntary, and undeceived con-
sent and participation. When I say only himself, I mean
directly, and in the first instance: for whatever affects him-
self, may affect others through himself; and the objection
which may be grounded on this contingency, will receive
consideration in the sequel. This, then, is the appropriate
region of human liberty. It comprises, first, the inward do-
main of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscience, in
the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feel-
ing; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all
subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theo-
logical. The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions
may seem to fall under a different principle, since it belongs
to that part of the conduct of an individual which concerns
other people; but, being almost of as much importance as
the liberty of thought itself, and resting in great part on the
same reasons, is practically inseparable from it. Secondly,
the principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of
framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of
doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may fol-
low; without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long
as what we do does not harm them even though they should
think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong. Thirdly,
from this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty,
within the same limits, of combination among individuals;
freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to
others: the persons combining being supposed to be of full
age, and not forced or deceived.

No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole,
respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government;
and none is completely free in which they do not exist abso-
lute and unqualified. The only freedom which deserves the
name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so
long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or
impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guard-
ian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spirit-
ual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other
to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each
to live as seems good to the rest.

Though this doctrine is anything but new, and, to some
persons, may have the air of a truism, there is no doctrine
which stands more directly opposed to the general tendency
of existing opinion and practice. Society has expended
fully as much effort in the attempt (according to its lights)
to compel people to conform to its notions of personal, as
of social excellence. The ancient commonwealths thought
themselves entitled to practise, and the ancient philosophers
countenanced, the regulation of every part of private con-
duct by public authority, on the ground that the State had
a deep interest in the whole bodily and mental discipline of
every one of its citizens, a mode of thinking which may
have been admissible in small republics surrounded by pow-
erful enemies, in constant peril of being subverted by
foreign attack or internal commotion, and to which even a
short interval of relaxed energy and self-command might so
easily be fatal, that they could not afford to wait for the salu-
tary permanent effects of freedom. In the modern world, the
greater size of political communities, and above all, the
separation between the spiritual and temporal authority
(which placed the direction of men's consciences in other
hands than those which controlled their worldly affairs),
prevented so great an interference by law in the details of
private life; but the engines of moral repression have been
wielded more strenuously against divergence from the
reigning opinion in self-regarding, than even in social mat-
ters; religion, the most powerful of the elements which have
entered into the formation of moral feeling, having almost
always been governed either by the ambition of a hierarchy,
seeking control over every department of human conduct,
or by the spirit of Puritanism. And some of those modern
reformers who have placed themselves in strongest opposi-
tion to the religions of the past, have been noway behind
either churches or sects in their assertion of the right of
spiritual domination: M. Comte, in particular, whose social
system, as unfolded in his Traite de Politique Positive, aims
at establishing (though by moral more than by legal appli-
ances) a despotism of society over the individual, surpassing
anything contemplated in the political ideal of the most
rigid disciplinarian among the ancient philosophers.

Apart from the peculiar tenets of individual thinkers,
there is also in the world at large an increasing inclination
to stretch unduly the powers of society over the individual,
both by the force of opinion and even by that of legislation:
and as the tendency of all the changes taking place in the
world is to strengthen society, and diminish the power of
the individual, this encroachment is not one of the evils
which tend spontaneously to disappear, but, on the contrary,
to grow more and more formidable. The disposition of
mankind, whether as rulers or as fellow-citizens, to impose
their own opinions and inclinations as a rule of conduct on
others, is so energetically supported by some of the best and
by some of the worst feelings incident to human nature, that
it is hardly ever kept under restraint by anything but want of
power; and as the power is not declining, but growing, un-
less a strong barrier of moral conviction can be raised
against the mischief, we must expect, in the present circum-
stances of the world, to see it increase.

It will be convenient for the argument, if, instead of at
once entering upon the general thesis, we confine ourselves
in the first instance to a single branch of it, on which the
principle here stated is, if not fully, yet to a certain point,
recognized by the current opinions. This one branch is the
Liberty of Thought: from which it is impossible to separate
the cognate liberty of speaking and of writing. Although
these liberties, to some considerable amount, form part of
the political morality of all countries which profess re-
ligious toleration and free institutions, the grounds, both
philosophical and practical, on which they rest, are perhaps
not so familiar to the general mind, nor so thoroughly ap-
preciated by many even of the leaders of opinion, as might
have been expected. Those grounds, when rightly under-
stood, are of much wider application than to only one
division of the subject, and a thorough consideration of this
part of the question will be found the best introduction to
the remainder. Those to whom nothing which I am about
to say will be new, may therefore, I hope, excuse me, if on
a subject which for now three centuries has been so often
discussed, I venture on one discussion more.



THE time, it is to be hoped, is gone by when any
defence would be necessary of the "liberty of the
press" as one of the securities against corrupt or
tyrannical government. No argument, we may suppose, can
now be needed, against permitting a legislature or an ex-
ecutive, not identified in interest with the people, to pre-
scribe opinions to them, and determine what doctrines or
what arguments they shall be allowed to hear. This aspect
of the question, besides, has been so often and so trium-
phantly enforced by preceding writers, that it needs not be
specially insisted on in this place. Though the law of Eng-
land, on the subject of the press, is as servile to this day
as it was in the time of the Tudors, there is little danger of
its being actually put in force against political discussion,
except during some temporary panic, when fear of insurrec-
tion drives ministers and judges from their propriety;[1]
and, speaking generally, it is not, in constitutional countries,
to be apprehended that the government, whether completely
responsible to the people or not, will often attempt to con-
trol the expression of opinion, except when in doing so it
makes itself the organ of the general intolerance of the
public. Let us suppose, therefore, that the government is
entirely at one with the people, and never thinks of exert-
ing any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it
conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the
people to exercise such coercion, either by themselves or
by their government. The power itself is illegitimate. The
best government has no more title to it than the worst. It
is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance
with public opinion, than when in opposition to it. If all
mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one per-
son were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no
more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he
had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except
to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it
were simply a private injury, it would make some difference
whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons
or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expres-
sion of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race;
posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dis-
sent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.
If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity
of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what
is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier
impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

It is necessary to consider separately these two hypotheses,
each of which has a distinct branch of the argument cor-
responding to it. We can never be sure that the opinion we
are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were
sure, stifling it would be an evil still.

First: the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by
authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to sup-
press it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible.
They have no authority to decide the question for all man-
kind, and exclude every other person from the means of
judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they
are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty
is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of
discussion is an assumption of infallibility. Its condemnation
may be allowed to rest on this common argument, not the
worse for being common.

Unfortunately for the good sense of mankind, the fact
of their fallibility is far from carrying the weight in their
practical judgment, which is always allowed to it in theory;
for while every one well knows himself to be fallible, few
think it necessary to take any precautions against their own
fallibility, or admit the supposition that any opinion of
which they feel very certain, may be one of the examples of
the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable.
Absolute princes, or others who are accustomed to unlimited
deference, usually feel this complete confidence in their own
opinions on nearly all subjects. People more happily situ-
ated, who sometimes hear their opinions disputed, and are
not wholly unused to be set right when they are wrong,
place the same unbounded reliance only on such of their
opinions as are shared by all who surround them, or to
whom they habitually defer: for in proportion to a man's
want of confidence in his own solitary judgment, does he
usually repose, with implicit trust, on the infallibility of
"the world" in general. And the world, to each individual,
means the part of it with which he comes in contact; his
party, his sect, his church, his class of society: the man
may be called, by comparison, almost liberal and large-
minded to whom it means anything so comprehensive as his
own country or his own age. Nor is his faith in this col-
lective authority at all shaken by his being aware that other
ages, countries, sects, churches, classes, and parties have
thought, and even now think, the exact reverse. He de-
volves upon his own world the responsibility of being in the
right against the dissentient worlds of other people; and it
never troubles him that mere accident has decided which
of these numerous worlds is the object of his reliance, and
that the same causes which make him a Churchman in Lon-
don, would have made him a Buddhist or a Confucian in
Pekin. Yet it is as evident in itself as any amount of argu-
ment can make it, that ages are no more infallible than in-
dividuals; every age having held many opinions which subse-
quent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is
as certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected
by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected
by the present.

The objection likely to be made to this argument, would
probably take some such form as the following. There is
no greater assumption of infallibility in forbidding the
propagation of error, than in any other thing which is
done by public authority on its own judgment and responsi-
bility. Judgment is given to men that they may use it. Be-
cause it may be used erroneously, are men to be told that
they ought not to use it at all? To prohibit what they think
pernicious, is not claiming exemption from error, but ful-
filling the duty incumbent on them, although fallible, of act-
ing on their conscientious conviction. If we were never
to act on our opinions, because those opinions may be wrong,
we should leave all our interests uncared for, and all our
duties unperformed. An objection which applies to all
conduct can be no valid objection to any conduct in par-

It is the duty of governments, and of individuals, to
form the truest opinions they can; to form them care-
fully, and never impose them upon others unless they are
quite sure of being right. But when they are sure (such
reasoners may say), it is not conscientiousness but cowardice
to shrink from acting on their opinions, and allow doctrines
which they honestly think dangerous to the welfare of man-
kind, either in this life or in another, to be scattered abroad
without restraint, because other people, in less enlightened
times, have persecuted opinions now believed to be true.
Let us take care, it may be said, not to make the same mis-
take: but governments and nations have made mistakes in
other things, which are not denied to be fit subjects for the
exercise of authority: they have laid on bad taxes, made
unjust wars. Ought we therefore to lay on no taxes, and,
under whatever provocation, make no wars? Men, and
governments, must act to the best of their ability. There
is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance
sufficient for the purposes of human life. We may, and
must, assume our opinion to be true for the guidance of our
own conduct: and it is assuming no more when we forbid
bad men to pervert society by the propagation of opinions
which we regard as false and pernicious.

I answer, that it is assuming very much more. There is
the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be
true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it
has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose
of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty of con-
tradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition
which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of
action; and on no other terms can a being with human
faculties have any rational assurance of being right.

When we consider either the history of opinion, or the
ordinary conduct of human life, to what is it to be ascribed
that the one and the other are no worse than they are? Not
certainly to the inherent force of the human understanding;
for, on any matter not self-evident, there are ninety-nine per-
sons totally incapable of judging of it, for one who is capable;
and the capacity of the hundredth person is only compara-
tive; for the majority of the eminent men of every past
generation held many opinions now known to be erroneous,
and did or approved numerous things which no one will now
justify. Why is it, then, that there is on the whole a pre-
ponderance among mankind of rational opinions and rational
conduct? If there really is this preponderance--which there
must be, unless human affairs are, and have always been,
in an almost desperate state--it is owing to a quality of the
human mind, the source of everything respectable in man,
either as an intellectual or as a moral being, namely, that
his errors are corrigible. He is capable of rectifying his
mistakes by discussion and experience. Not by experience
alone. There must be discussion, to show how experience is
to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually
yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to pro-
duce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it.
Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without
comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength
and value, then, of human judgment, depending on the one
property, that it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance
can be placed on it only when the means of setting it right
are kept constantly at hand. In the case of any person
whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has
it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criti-
cism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his
practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to
profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself,
and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was falla-
cious. Because he has felt, that the only way in which a
human being can make some approach to knowing the whole
of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by per-
sons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in
which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No
wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this;
nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in
any other manner. The steady habit of correcting and
completing his own opinion by collating it with those of
others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying
it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just
reliance on it: for, being cognizant of all that can, at least
obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his
position against all gainsayers knowing that he has sought
for objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them,
and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the
subject from any quarter--he has a right to think his judg-
ment better than that of any person, or any multitude, who
have not gone through a similar process.

It is not too much to require that what the wisest of
mankind, those who are best entitled to trust their own judg-
ment, find necessary to warrant their relying on it, should
be submitted to by that miscellaneous collection of a few
wise and many foolish individuals, called the public. The
most intolerant of churches, the Roman Catholic Church,
even at the canonization of a saint, admits, and listens
patiently to, a "devil's advocate." The holiest of men, it
appears, cannot be admitted to posthumous honors, until all
that the devil could say against him is known and weighed.
If even the Newtonian philosophy were not permitted to be
questioned, mankind could not feel as complete assurance
of its truth as they now do. The beliefs which we have
most warrant for, have no safeguard to rest on, but a stand-
ing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded.
If the challenge is not accepted, or is accepted and the at-
tempt fails, we are far enough from certainty still; but we
have done the best that the existing state of human reason
admits of; we have neglected nothing that could give the
truth a chance of reaching us: if the lists are kept open, we
may hope that if there be a better truth, it will be found
when the human mind is capable of receiving it; and in
the meantime we may rely on having attained such approach
to truth, as is possible in our own day. This is the amount
of certainty attainable by a fallible being, and this the
sole way of attaining it.

Strange it is, that men should admit the validity of the
arguments for free discussion, but object to their being
"pushed to an extreme;" not seeing that unless the rea-
sons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for
any case. Strange that they should imagine that they are
not assuming infallibility when they acknowledge that there
should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly
be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doc-
trine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is
so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain.
To call any proposition certain, while there is any one who
would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not per-
mitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree
with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without
hearing the other side.

In the present age--which has been described as "destitute
of faith, but terrified at scepticism,"--in which people feel
sure, not so much that their opinions are true, as that they
should not know what to do without them--the claims of an
opinion to be protected from public attack are rested not
so much on its truth, as on its importance to society. There
are, it is alleged, certain beliefs, so useful, not to say indis-
pensable to well-being, that it is as much the duty of govern-
ments to uphold those beliefs, as to protect any other of the
interests of society. In a case of such necessity, and so
directly in the line of their duty, something less than in-
fallibility may, it is maintained, warrant, and even bind,
governments, to act on their own opinion, confirmed by the
general opinion of mankind. It is also often argued, and
still oftener thought, that none but bad men would desire
to weaken these salutary beliefs; and there can be nothing
wrong, it is thought, in restraining bad men, and prohibiting
what only such men would wish to practise. This mode of
thinking makes the justification of restraints on discussion
not a question of the truth of doctrines, but of their
usefulness; and flatters itself by that means to escape the
responsibility of claiming to be an infallible judge of opin-
ions. But those who thus satisfy themselves, do not perceive
that the assumption of infallibility is merely shifted from
one point to another. The usefulness of an opinion is
itself matter of opinion: as disputable, as open to dis-
cussion and requiring discussion as much, as the opinion
itself. There is the same need of an infallible judge of
opinions to decide an opinion to be noxious, as to decide it
to be false, unless the opinion condemned has full oppor-
tunity of defending itself. And it will not do to say that the
heretic may be allowed to maintain the utility or harmless-
ness of his opinion, though forbidden to maintain its truth.
The truth of an opinion is part of its utility. If we would
know whether or not it is desirable that a proposition should
be believed, is it possible to exclude the consideration of
whether or not it is true? In the opinion, not of bad men,
but of the best men, no belief which is contrary to truth can
be really useful: and can you prevent such men from urging
that plea, when they are charged with culpability for denying
some doctrine which they are told is useful, but which they
believe to be false? Those who are on the side of received
opinions, never fail to take all possible advantage of this
plea; you do not find them handling the question of utility
as if it could be completely abstracted from that of truth:
on the contrary, it is, above all, because their doctrine is
"the truth," that the knowledge or the belief of it is held
to be so indispensable. There can be no fair discussion
of the question of usefulness, when an argument so vital
may be employed on one side, but not on the other. And
in point of fact, when law or public feeling do not permit
the truth of an opinion to be disputed, they are just as little
tolerant of a denial of its usefulness. The utmost they
allow is an extenuation of its absolute necessity or of the
positive guilt of rejecting it.

In order more fully to illustrate the mischief of denying
a hearing to opinions because we, in our own judgment,
have condemned them, it will be desirable to fix down the
discussion to a concrete case; and I choose, by preference,
the cases which are least favourable to me--in which the
argument against freedom of opinion, both on the score of
truth and on that of utility, is considered the strongest. Let
the opinions impugned be the belief in a God and in a future
state, or any of the commonly received doctrines of morality.
To fight the battle on such ground, gives a great advantage
to an unfair antagonist; since he will be sure to say (and
many who have no desire to be unfair will say it internally),
Are these the doctrines which you do not deem sufficiently
certain to be taken under the protection of law? Is the
belief in a God one of the opinions, to feel sure of which,
you hold to be assuming infallibility? But I must be per-
mitted to observe, that it is not the feeling sure of a doctrine
(be it what it may) which I call an assumption of infalli-
bility. It is the undertaking to decide that question for
others, without allowing them to hear what can be said on
the contrary side. And I denounce and reprobate this pre-
tension not the less, if put forth on the side of my most
solemn convictions. However positive any one's persuasion
may be, not only of the falsity, but of the pernicious conse-
quences--not only of the pernicious consequences, but (to
adopt expressions which I altogether condemn) the im-
morality and impiety of an opinion; yet if, in pursuance of
that private judgment, though backed by the public judg-
ment of his country or his cotemporaries, he prevents the
opinion from being heard in its defence, he assumes infalli-
bility. And so far from the assumption being less objec-
tionable or less dangerous because the opinion is called
immoral or impious, this is the case of all others in which
it is most fatal. These are exactly the occasions on which
the men of one generation commit those dreadful mistakes
which excite the astonishment and horror of posterity. It
is among such that we find the instances memorable in his-
tory, when the arm of the law has been employed to root
out the best men and the noblest doctrines; with deplorable
success as to the men, though some of the doctrines have
survived to be (as if in mockery) invoked, in defence of
similar conduct towards those who dissent from them, or
from their received interpretation.

Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was
once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal
authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place
a memorable collision. Born in an age and country abound-
ing in individual greatness, this man has been handed down
to us by those who best knew both him and the age, as the
most virtuous man in it; while we know him as the head
and prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the
source equally of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the
judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, "i maestri di color che
sanno," the two headsprings of ethical as of all other philos-
ophy. This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers
who have since lived--whose fame, still growing after
more than two thousand years, all but outweighs the whole
remainder of the names which make his native city illustrious
--was put to death by his countrymen, after a judicial con-
viction, for impiety and immorality. Impiety, in denying
the gods recognized by the State; indeed his accuser asserted
(see the "Apologia") that he believed in no gods at all.
Immorality, in being, by his doctrines and instructions, a
"corrupter of youth." Of these charges the tribunal, there
is every ground for believing, honestly found him guilty,
and condemned the man who probably of all then born had
deserved best of mankind, to be put to death as a criminal.

To pass from this to the only other instance of judicial
iniquity, the mention of which, after the condemnation of
Socrates, would not be an anti-climax: the event which took
place on Calvary rather more than eighteen hundred years
ago. The man who left on the memory of those who wit-
nessed his life and conversation, such an impression of his
moral grandeur, that eighteen subsequent centuries have
done homage to him as the Almighty in person, was igno-
miniously put to death, as what? As a blasphemer. Men
did not merely mistake their benefactor; they mistook him
for the exact contrary of what he was, and treated him as
that prodigy of impiety, which they themselves are now held
to be, for their treatment of him. The feelings with which
mankind now regard these lamentable transactions, especially
the latter of the two, render them extremely unjust in their
judgment of the unhappy actors. These were, to all ap-
pearance, not bad men--not worse than men most commonly
are, but rather the contrary; men who possessed in a full, or
somewhat more than a full measure, the religious, moral,
and patriotic feelings of their time and people: the very
kind of men who, in all times, our own included, have every
chance of passing through life blameless and respected.
The high-priest who rent his garments when the words were
pronounced, which, according to all the ideas of his country,
constituted the blackest guilt, was in all probability quite as
sincere in his horror and indignation, as the generality of
respectable and pious men now are in the religious and moral
sentiments they profess; and most of those who now shudder
at his conduct, if they had lived in his time and been born
Jews, would have acted precisely as he did. Orthodox
Christians who are tempted to think that those who stoned
to death the first martyrs must have been worse men than
they themselves are, ought to remember that one of those per-
secutors was Saint Paul.

Let us add one more example, the most striking of all, if
the impressiveness of an error is measured by the wisdom
and virtue of him who falls into it. If ever any one, pos-
sessed of power, had grounds for thinking himself the best
and most enlightened among his cotemporaries, it was the
Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Absolute monarch of the whole
civilized world, he preserved through life not only the most
unblemished justice, but what was less to be expected from
his Stoical breeding, the tenderest heart. The few failings
which are attributed to him, were all on the side of in-
dulgence: while his writings, the highest ethical product
of the ancient mind, differ scarcely perceptibly, if they
differ at all, from the most characteristic teachings of Christ.
This man, a better Christian in all but the dogmatic sense
of the word, than almost any of the ostensibly Christian
sovereigns who have since reigned, persecuted Christianity.
Placed at the summit of all the previous attainments of
humanity, with an open, unfettered intellect, and a character
which led him of himself to embody in his moral writings the
Christian ideal, he yet failed to see that Christianity was
to be a good and not an evil to the world, with his duties
to which he was so deeply penetrated. Existing society he
knew to be in a deplorable state. But such as it was, he
saw or thought he saw, that it was held together and pre-
vented from being worse, by belief and reverence of the
received divinities. As a ruler of mankind, he deemed it
his duty not to suffer society to fall in pieces; and saw not
how, if its existing ties were removed, any others could be
formed which could again knit it together. The new re-
ligion openly aimed at dissolving these ties: unless, there-
fore, it was his duty to adopt that religion, it seemed to be
his duty to put it down. Inasmuch then as the theology of
Christianity did not appear to him true or of divine origin;
inasmuch as this strange history of a crucified God was not
credible to him, and a system which purported to rest en-
tirely upon a foundation to him so wholly unbelievable,
could not be foreseen by him to be that renovating agency
which, after all abatements, it has in fact proved to be; the
gentlest and most amiable of philosophers and rulers, under
a solemn sense of duty, authorized the persecution of Chris-
tianity. To my mind this is one of the most tragical facts
in all history. It is a bitter thought, how different a thing
the Christianity of the world might have been, if the Chris-
tian faith had been adopted as the religion of the empire
under the auspices of Marcus Aurelius instead of those of
Constantine. But it would be equally unjust to him and
false to truth, to deny, that no one plea which can be urged
for punishing anti-Christian teaching, was wanting to Mar-
cus Aurelius for punishing, as he did, the propagation of
Christianity. No Christian more firmly believes that Atheism
is false, and tends to the dissolution of society, than Marcus
Aurelius believed the same things of Christianity; he who,
of all men then living, might have been thought the most
capable of appreciating it. Unless any one who approves
of punishment for the promulgation of opinions, flatters
himself that he is a wiser and better man than Marcus
Aurelius--more deeply versed in the wisdom of his time,
more elevated in his intellect above it--more earnest in his
search for truth, or more single-minded in his devotion to
it when found;--let him abstain from that assumption of
the joint infallibility of himself and the multitude, which
the great Antoninus made with so unfortunate a result.

Aware of the impossibility of defending the use of pun-
ishment for restraining irreligious opinions, by any argument
which will not justify Marcus Antoninus, the enemies of
religious freedom, when hard pressed, occasionally accept
this consequence, and say, with Dr. Johnson, that the per-
secutors of Christianity were in the right; that persecution
is an ordeal through which truth ought to pass, and always
passes successfully, legal penalties being, in the end, power-
less against truth, though sometimes beneficially effective
against mischievous errors. This is a form of the argument
for religious intolerance, sufficiently remarkable not to be
passed without notice.

A theory which maintains that truth may justifiably be
persecuted because persecution cannot possibly do it any
harm, cannot be charged with being intentionally hostile to
the reception of new truths; but we cannot commend the
generosity of its dealing with the persons to whom man-
kind are indebted for them. To discover to the world some-
thing which deeply concerns it, and of which it was pre-
viously ignorant; to prove to it that it had been mistaken
on some vital point of temporal or spiritual interest, is as
important a service as a human being can render to his
fellow-creatures, and in certain cases, as in those of the
early Christians and of the Reformers, those who think
with Dr. Johnson believe it to have been the most precious
gift which could be bestowed on mankind. That the authors
of such splendid benefits should be requited by martyrdom;
that their reward should be to be dealt with as the vilest of
criminals, is not, upon this theory, a deplorable error and
misfortune, for which humanity should mourn in sackcloth
and ashes, but the normal and justifiable state of things.
The propounder of a new truth, according to this doctrine,
should stand, as stood, in the legislation of the Locrians,
the proposer of a new law, with a halter round his neck,
to be instantly tightened if the public assembly did not, on
hearing his reasons, then and there adopt his proposition.
People who defend this mode of treating benefactors, can
not be supposed to set much value on the benefit; and I
believe this view of the subject is mostly confined to the
sort of persons who think that new truths may have been
desirable once, but that we have had enough of them now.

But, indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs
over persecution, is one of those pleasant falsehoods which
men repeat after one another till they pass into common-
places, but which all experience refutes. History teems with
instances of truth put down by persecution. If not sup-
pressed forever, it may be thrown back for centuries. To
speak only of religious opinions: the Reformation broke out
at least twenty times before Luther, and was put down.
Arnold of Brescia was put down. Fra Dolcino was put
down. Savonarola was put down. The Albigeois were
put down. The Vaudois were put down. The Lollards
were put down. The Hussites were put down. Even
after the era of Luther, wherever persecution was per-
sisted in, it was successful. In Spain, Italy, Flanders,
the Austrian empire, Protestantism was rooted out; and,
most likely, would have been so in England, had Queen Mary
lived, or Queen Elizabeth died. Persecution has always
succeeded, save where the heretics were too strong a party
to be effectually persecuted. No reasonable person can
doubt that Christianity might have been extirpated in the
Roman empire. It spread, and became predominant, be-
cause the persecutions were only occasional, lasting but a
short time, and separated by long intervals of almost un-
disturbed propagandism. It is a piece of idle sentimentality
that truth, merely as truth, has any inherent power denied
to error, of prevailing against the dungeon and the stake.
Men are not more zealous for truth than they often are for
error, and a sufficient application of legal or even of social
penalties will generally succeed in stopping the propagation
of either. The real advantage which truth has, consists in
this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished
once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there
will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some
one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favour-
able circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made
such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to sup-
press it.

It will be said, that we do not now put to death the intro-
ducers of new opinions: we are not like our fathers who
slew the prophets, we even build sepulchres to them. It is
true we no longer put heretics to death; and the amount of
penal infliction which modern feeling would probably tol-
erate, even against the most obnoxious opinions, is not
sufficient to extirpate them. But let us not flatter ourselves
that we are yet free from the stain even of legal persecu-
tion. Penalties for opinion, or at least for its expression,
still exist by law; and their enforcement is not, even in these
times, so unexampled as to make it at all incredible that they
may some day be revived in full force. In the year 1857,
at the summer assizes of the county of Cornwall, an unfor-
tunate man,[2] said to be of unexceptionable conduct in all
relations of life, was sentenced to twenty-one months impris-
onment, for uttering, and writing on a gate, some offensive
words concerning Christianity. Within a month of the
same time, at the Old Bailey, two persons, on two separate
occasions,[3] were rejected as jurymen, and one of them
grossly insulted by the judge and one of the counsel, be-
cause they honestly declared that they had no theological
belief; and a third, a foreigner,[4] for the same reason, was
denied justice against a thief. This refusal of redress took
place in virtue of the legal doctrine, that no person can be
allowed to give evidence in a court of justice, who does not
profess belief in a God (any god is sufficient) and in a future
state; which is equivalent to declaring such persons to be
outlaws, excluded from the protection of the tribunals; who
may not only be robbed or assaulted with impunity, if no one
but themselves, or persons of similar opinions, be present,
but any one else may be robbed or assaulted with impunity,
if the proof of the fact depends on their evidence. The as-
sumption on which this is grounded, is that the oath is
worthless, of a person who does not believe in a future
state; a proposition which betokens much ignorance of his-
tory in those who assent to it (since it is historically true
that a large proportion of infidels in all ages have been per-
sons of distinguished integrity and honor); and would be
maintained by no one who had the smallest conception how
many of the persons in greatest repute with the world, both
for virtues and for attainments, are well known, at least to
their intimates, to be unbelievers. The rule, besides, is sui-
cidal, and cuts away its own foundation. Under pretence that
atheists must be liars, it admits the testimony of all atheists
who are willing to lie, and rejects only those who brave the
obloquy of publicly confessing a detested creed rather than
affirm a falsehood. A rule thus self-convicted of absurdity
so far as regards its professed purpose, can be kept in force
only as a badge of hatred, a relic of persecution; a persecu-
tion, too, having the peculiarity that the qualification for
undergoing it is the being clearly proved not to deserve it.
The rule, and the theory it implies, are hardly less insulting
to believers than to infidels. For if he who does not believe
in a future state necessarily lies, it follows that they who do
believe are only prevented from lying, if prevented they are,
by the fear of hell. We will not do the authors and abettors
of the rule the injury of supposing, that the conception
which they have formed of Christian virtue is drawn from
their own consciousness.

These, indeed, are but rags and remnants of persecution,
and may be thought to be not so much an indication of the
wish to persecute, as an example of that very frequent in-
firmity of English minds, which makes them take a prepos-
terous pleasure in the assertion of a bad principle, when they
are no longer bad enough to desire to carry it really into
practice. But unhappily there is no security in the state
of the public mind, that the suspension of worse forms of
legal persecution, which has lasted for about the space of
a generation, will continue. In this age the quiet surface
of routine is as often ruffled by attempts to resuscitate past
evils, as to introduce new benefits. What is boasted of at
the present time as the revival of religion, is always, in
narrow and uncultivated minds, at least as much the revival
of bigotry; and where there is the strongest permanent
leaven of intolerance in the feelings of a people, which at
all times abides in the middle classes of this country, it needs
but little to provoke them into actively persecuting those
whom they have never ceased to think proper objects of per-
secution.[5] For it is this--it is the opinions men entertain,
and the feelings they cherish, respecting those who disown
the beliefs they deem important, which makes this country
not a place of mental freedom. For a long time past, the
chief mischief of the legal penalties is that they strengthen
the social stigma. It is that stigma which is really effective,
and so effective is it, that the profession of opinions which
are under the ban of society is much less common in Eng-
land, than is, in many other countries, the avowal of those
which incur risk of judicial punishment. In respect to all
persons but those whose pecuniary circumstances make them
independent of the good will of other people, opinion, on
this subject, is as efficacious as law; men might as well be
imprisoned, as excluded from the means of earning their
bread. Those whose bread is already secured, and who
desire no favors from men in power, or from bodies
of men, or from the public, have nothing to fear from the
open avowal of any opinions, but to be ill-thought of and ill-
spoken of, and this it ought not to require a very heroic
mould to enable them to bear. There is no room for any
appeal ad misericordiam in behalf of such persons. But
though we do not now inflict so much evil on those who
think differently from us, as it was formerly our custom to
do, it may be that we do ourselves as much evil as ever
by our treatment of them. Socrates was put to death, but
the Socratic philosophy rose like the sun in heaven, and
spread its illumination over the whole intellectual firma-
ment. Christians were cast to the lions, but the Christian
Church grew up a stately and spreading tree, overtopping
the older and less vigorous growths, and stifling them by its
shade. Our merely social intolerance, kills no one, roots out
no opinions, but induces men to disguise them, or to abstain
from any active effort for their diffusion. With us, hereti-
cal opinions do not perceptibly gain or even lose, ground in
each decade or generation; they never blaze out far and
wide, but continue to smoulder in the narrow circles of
thinking and studious persons among whom they originate,
without ever lighting up the general affairs of mankind with
either a true or a deceptive light. And thus is kept up a
state of things very satisfactory to some minds, because,
without the unpleasant process of fining or imprisoning any-
body, it maintains all prevailing opinions outwardly undis-
turbed, while it does not absolutely interdict the exercise of
reason by dissentients afflicted with the malady of thought.
A convenient plan for having peace in the intellectual world,
and keeping all things going on therein very much as they
do already. But the price paid for this sort of intellectual
pacification, is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of
the human mind. A state of things in which a large portion
of the most active and inquiring intellects find it advisable
to keep the genuine principles and grounds of their convic-
tions within their own breasts, and attempt, in what they
address to the public, to fit as much as they can of their own
conclusions to premises which they have internally re-
nounced, cannot send forth the open, fearless characters, and
logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking
world. The sort of men who can be looked for under it, are
either mere conformers to commonplace, or time-servers
for truth whose arguments on all great subjects are meant
for their hearers, and are not those which have convinced
themselves. Those who avoid this alternative, do so by
narrowing their thoughts and interests to things which can
be spoken of without venturing within the region of princi-
ples, that is, to small practical matters, which would come
right of themselves, if but the minds of mankind were
strengthened and enlarged, and which will never be made
effectually right until then; while that which would strength-
en and enlarge men's minds, free and daring speculation on
the highest subjects, is abandoned.

Those in whose eyes this reticence on the part of heretics
is no evil, should consider in the first place, that in conse-
quence of it there is never any fair and thorough discussion
of heretical opinions; and that such of them as could not
stand such a discussion, though they may be prevented from
spreading, do not disappear. But it is not the minds of
heretics that are deteriorated most, by the ban placed on
all inquiry which does not end in the orthodox conclusions.
The greatest harm done is to those who are not heretics, and
whose whole mental development is cramped, and their rea-
son cowed, by the fear of heresy. Who can compute what
the world loses in the multitude of promising intellects com-
bined with timid characters, who dare not follow out any
bold, vigorous, independent train of thought, lest it should
land them in something which would admit of being con-
sidered irreligious or immoral? Among them we may occa-
sionally see some man of deep conscientiousness, and subtile
and refined understanding, who spends a life in sophisticat-
ing with an intellect which he cannot silence, and exhausts
the resources of ingenuity in attempting to reconcile the
promptings of his conscience and reason with orthodoxy,
which yet he does not, perhaps, to the end succeed in doing.
No one can be a great thinker who does not recognize, that
as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to what-
ever conclusions it may lead. Truth gains more even by the
errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks
for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only
hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think.
Not that it is solely, or chiefly, to form great thinkers, that
freedom of thinking is required. On the contrary, it is as
much, and even more indispensable, to enable average hu-
man beings to attain the mental stature which they are capa-
ble of. There have been, and may again be, great individual
thinkers, in a general atmosphere of mental slavery. But
there never has been, nor ever will be, in that atmosphere,
an intellectually active people. Where any people has made
a temporary approach to such a character, it has been be-
cause the dread of heterodox speculation was for a time sus-
pended. Where there is a tacit convention that principles
are not to be disputed; where the discussion of the greatest
questions which can occupy humanity is considered to be
closed, we cannot hope to find that generally high scale of
mental activity which has made some periods of history so
remarkable. Never when controversy avoided the subjects
which are large and important enough to kindle enthusiasm,
was the mind of a people stirred up from its foundations,
and the impulse given which raised even persons of the most
ordinary intellect to something of the dignity of thinking
beings. Of such we have had an example in the condition
of Europe during the times immediately following the Ref-
ormation; another, though limited to the Continent and to
a more cultivated class, in the speculative movement of the
latter half of the eighteenth century; and a third, of still
briefer duration, in the intellectual fermentation of Ger-
many during the Goethian and Fichtean period. These
periods differed widely in the particular opinions which they
developed; but were alike in this, that during all three the yoke
of authority was broken. In each, an old mental despotism
had been thrown off, and no new one had yet taken its place.
The impulse given at these three periods has made Europe
what it now is. Every single improvement which has taken
place either in the human mind or in institutions, may be
traced distinctly to one or other of them. Appearances have
for some time indicated that all three impulses are well-nigh
spent; and we can expect no fresh start, until we again
assert our mental freedom.

Let us now pass to the second division of the argument,
and dismissing the Supposition that any of the received
opinions may be false, let us assume them to be true, and
examine into the worth of the manner in which they are
likely to be held, when their truth is not freely and openly
canvassed. However unwillingly a person who has a strong
opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be
false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that how-
ever true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fear-
lessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living

There is a class of persons (happily not quite so numerous
as formerly) who think it enough if a person assents un-
doubtingly to what they think true, though he has no knowl-
edge whatever of the grounds of the opinion, and could
not make a tenable defence of it against the most super-
ficial objections. Such persons, if they can once get their
creed taught from authority, naturally think that no good,
and some harm, comes of its being allowed to be questioned.
Where their influence prevails, they make it nearly impossi-
ble for the received opinion to be rejected wisely and con-
siderately, though it may still be rejected rashly and igno-
rantly; for to shut out discussion entirely is seldom possible,
and when it once gets in, beliefs not grounded on conviction
are apt to give way before the slightest semblance of an
argument. Waiving, however, this possibility--assuming
that the true opinion abides in the mind, but abides as a
prejudice, a belief independent of, and proof against, argu-
ment--this is not the way in which truth ought to be held
by a rational being. This is not knowing the truth. Truth,
thus held, is but one superstition the more, accidentally
clinging to the words which enunciate a truth.

If the intellect and judgment of mankind ought to be cul-
tivated, a thing which Protestants at least do not deny, on
what can these faculties be more appropriately exercised by
any one, than on the things which concern him so much that
it is considered necessary for him to hold opinions on them?
If the cultivation of the understanding consists in one thing
more than in another, it is surely in learning the grounds of
one's own opinions. Whatever people believe, on subjects on
which it is of the first importance to believe rightly, they
ought to be able to defend against at least the common ob-
jections. But, some one may say, "Let them be taught the
grounds of their opinions. It does not follow that opinions
must be merely parroted because they are never heard con-
troverted. Persons who learn geometry do not simply com-
mit the theorems to memory, but understand and learn like-
wise the demonstrations; and it would be absurd to say that
they remain ignorant of the grounds of geometrical truths,
because they never hear any one deny, and attempt to dis-
prove them." Undoubtedly: and such teaching suffices on a
subject like mathematics, where there is nothing at all to be
said on the wrong side of the question. The peculiarity of
the evidence of mathematical truths is, that all the argu-
ment is on one side. There are no objections, and no
answers to objections. But on every subject on which dif-
ference of opinion is possible, the truth depends on a balance
to be struck between two sets of conflicting reasons. Even
in natural philosophy, there is always some other explana-
tion possible of the same facts; some geocentric theory in-
stead of heliocentric, some phlogiston instead of oxygen;
and it has to be shown why that other theory cannot be the
true one: and until this is shown and until we know how it
is shown, we do not understand the grounds of our opinion.
But when we turn to subjects infinitely more complicated,
to morals, religion, politics, social relations, and the business
of life, three-fourths of the arguments for every disputed
opinion consist in dispelling the appearances which favor
some opinion different from it. The greatest orator, save
one, of antiquity, has left it on record that he always
studied his adversary's case with as great, if not with still
greater, intensity than even his own. What Cicero practised
as the means of forensic success, requires to be imitated by
all who study any subject in order to arrive at the truth.
He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little
of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have
been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to
refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so
much as know what they are, he has no ground for pre-
ferring either opinion. The rational position for him
would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents
himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts,
like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels
most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should hear the
arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented
as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as
refutations. This is not the way to do justice to the argu-
ments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind.
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually
believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their
very utmost for them. He must know them in their most
plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force
of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to
encounter and dispose of, else he will never really possess
himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes
that difficulty. Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called
educated men are in this condition, even of those who can
argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be
true, but it might be false for anything they know: they
have never thrown themselves into the mental position of
those who think differently from them, and considered what
such persons may have to say; and consequently they do
not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine
which they themselves profess. They do not know those
parts of it which explain and justify the remainder; the con-
siderations which show that a fact which seemingly con-
flicts with another is reconcilable with it, or that, of two
apparently strong reasons, one and not the other ought to
be preferred. All that part of the truth which turns the
scale, and decides the judgment of a completely informed
mind, they are strangers to; nor is it ever really known, but
to those who have attended equally and impartially to both
sides, and endeavored to see the reasons of both in the
strongest light. So essential is this discipline to a real un-
derstanding of moral and human subjects, that if opponents
of all important truths do not exist, it is indispensable
to imagine them and supply them with the strongest
arguments which the most skilful devil's advocate can
conjure up.

To abate the force of these considerations, an enemy
of free discussion may be supposed to say, that there is no
necessity for mankind in general to know and understand
all that can be said against or for their opinions by philos-
ophers and theologians. That it is not needful for common
men to be able to expose all the misstatements or fallacies
of an ingenious opponent. That it is enough if there is
always somebody capable of answering them, so that nothing
likely to mislead uninstructed persons remains unrefuted.
That simple minds, having been taught the obvious grounds
of the truths inculcated on them, may trust to authority for
the rest, and being aware that they have neither knowledge
nor talent to resolve every difficulty which can be raised,
may repose in the assurance that all those which have been
raised have been or can be answered, by those who are
specially trained to the task.

Conceding to this view of the subject the utmost that can
be claimed for it by those most easily satisfied with the
amount of understanding of truth which ought to accom-
pany the belief of it; even so, the argument for free
discussion is no way weakened. For even this doctrine
acknowledges that mankind ought to have a rational assur-
ance that all objections have been satisfactorily answered;
and how are they to be answered if that which requires to
be answered is not spoken? or how can the answer be known
to be satisfactory, if the objectors have no opportunity of
showing that it is unsatisfactory? If not the public, at least
the philosophers and theologians who are to resolve the
difficulties, must make themselves familiar with those diffi-
culties in their most puzzling form; and this cannot be ac-
complished unless they are freely stated, and placed in the
most advantageous light which they admit of. The Catholic
Church has its own way of dealing with this embarrassing
problem. It makes a broad separation between those who
can be permitted to receive its doctrines on conviction, and
those who must accept them on trust. Neither, indeed, are
allowed any choice as to what they will accept; but the
clergy, such at least as can be fully confided in, may ad-
missibly and meritoriously make themselves acquainted with
the arguments of opponents, in order to answer them, and
may, therefore, read heretical books; the laity, not unless
by special permission, hard to be obtained. This discipline
recognizes a knowledge of the enemy's case as beneficial to
the teachers, but finds means, consistent with this, of deny-
ing it to the rest of the world: thus giving to the elite more
mental culture, though not more mental freedom, than it
allows to the mass. By this device it succeeds in obtaining
the kind of mental superiority which its purposes require;
for though culture without freedom never made a large and
liberal mind, it can make a clever nisi prius advocate of a
cause. But in countries professing Protestantism, this re-
source is denied; since Protestants hold, at least in theory,
that the responsibility for the choice of a religion must be
borne by each for himself, and cannot be thrown off upon
teachers. Besides, in the present state of the world, it is
practically impossible that writings which are read by the in-
structed can be kept from the uninstructed. If the teachers
of mankind are to be cognizant of all that they ought to
know, everything must be free to be written and published
without restraint.

If, however, the mischievous operation of the absence of
free discussion, when the received opinions are true, were
confined to leaving men ignorant of the grounds of those
opinions, it might be thought that this, if an intellectual, is
no moral evil, and does not affect the worth of the opinions,
regarded in their influence on the character. The fact,
however, is, that not only the grounds of the opinion are
forgotten in the absence of discussion, but too often the
meaning of the opinion itself. The words which convey it,
cease to suggest ideas, or suggest only a small portion of
those they were originally employed to communicate. In-
stead of a vivid conception and a living belief, there remain
only a few phrases retained by rote; or, if any part, the
shell and husk only of the meaning is retained, the finer
essence being lost. The great chapter in human history
which this fact occupies and fills, cannot be too earnestly
studied and meditated on.

It is illustrated in the experience of almost all ethical doc-
trines and religious creeds. They are all full of meaning
and vitality to those who originate them, and to the direct
disciples of the originators. Their meaning continues to
be felt in undiminished strength, and is perhaps brought out
into even fuller consciousness, so long as the struggle lasts
to give the doctrine or creed an ascendency over other
creeds. At last it either prevails, and becomes the general
opinion, or its progress stops; it keeps possession of the
ground it has gained, but ceases to spread further. When
either of these results has become apparent, controversy on
the subject flags, and gradually dies away. The doctrine
has taken its place, if not as a received opinion, as one of
the admitted sects or divisions of opinion: those who hold
it have generally inherited, not adopted it; and conversion
from one of these doctrines to another, being now an ex-
ceptional fact, occupies little place in the thoughts of their
professors. Instead of being, as at first, constantly on the
alert either to defend themselves against the world, or to
bring the world over to them, they have subsided into ac-
quiescence, and neither listen, when they can help it, to
arguments against their creed, nor trouble dissentients (if
there be such) with arguments in its favor. From this time
may usually be dated the decline in the living power of the
doctrine. We often hear the teachers of all creeds lament-
ing the difficulty of keeping up in the minds of believers a
lively apprehension of the truth which they nominally recog-
nize, so that it may penetrate the feelings, and acquire a real
mastery over the conduct. No such difficulty is complained
of while the creed is still fighting for its existence: even the
weaker combatants then know and feel what they are fight-
ing for, and the difference between it and other doctrines;
and in that period of every creed's existence, not a few
persons may be found, who have realized its fundamental
principles in all the forms of thought, have weighed and
considered them in all their important bearings, and have
experienced the full effect on the character, which belief in
that creed ought to produce in a mind thoroughly imbued
with it. But when it has come to be an hereditary creed,
and to be received passively, not actively--when the mind
is no longer compelled, in the same degree as at first, to
exercise its vital powers on the questions which its belief
presents to it, there is a progressive tendency to forget all
of the belief except the formularies, or to give it a dull and
torpid assent, as if accepting it on trust dispensed with the
necessity of realizing it in consciousness, or testing it by
personal experience; until it almost ceases to connect itself
at all with the inner life of the human being. Then are seen
the cases, so frequent in this age of the world as almost to
form the majority, in which the creed remains as it were out-
side the mind, encrusting and petrifying it against all other
influences addressed to the higher parts of our nature; mani-
festing its power by not suffering any fresh and living con-
viction to get in, but itself doing nothing for the mind or
heart, except standing sentinel over them to keep them

To what an extent doctrines intrinsically fitted to make
the deepest impression upon the mind may remain in it as
dead beliefs, without being ever realized in the imagination,
the feelings, or the understanding, is exemplified by the
manner in which the majority of believers hold the doctrines
of Christianity. By Christianity I here mean what is ac-
counted such by all churches and sects--the maxims and pre-
cepts contained in the New Testament. These are consid-
ered sacred, and accepted as laws, by all professing Chris-
tians. Yet it is scarcely too much to say that not one Chris-
tian in a thousand guides or tests his individual conduct by
reference to those laws. The standard to which he does re-
fer it, is the custom of his nation, his class, or his religious
profession. He has thus, on the one hand, a collection of
ethical maxims, which he believes to have been vouchsafed
to him by infallible wisdom as rules for his government; and
on the other, a set of every-day judgments and practices,
which go a certain length with some of those maxims, not
so great a length with others, stand in direct opposition to
some, and are, on the whole, a compromise between the
Christian creed and the interests and suggestions of worldly
life. To the first of these standards he gives his homage;
to the other his real allegiance. All Christians believe that
the blessed are the poor and humble, and those who are ill-
used by the world; that it is easier for a camel to pass
through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter
the kingdom of heaven; that they should judge not, lest they
be judged; that they should swear not at all; that they
should love their neighbor as themselves; that if one take
their cloak, they should give him their coat also; that they
should take no thought for the morrow; that if they would
be perfect, they should sell all that they have and give it to
the poor. They are not insincere when they say that they
believe these things. They do believe them, as people be-
lieve what they have always heard lauded and never dis-
cussed. But in the sense of that living belief which regu-
lates conduct, they believe these doctrines just up to the
point to which it is usual to act upon them. The doctrines
in their integrity are serviceable to pelt adversaries with;
and it is understood that they are to be put forward (when
possible) as the reasons for whatever people do that they
think laudable. But any one who reminded them that the
maxims require an infinity of things which they never even
think of doing would gain nothing but to be classed among
those very unpopular characters who affect to be better than
other people. The doctrines have no hold on ordinary be-
lievers--are not a power in their minds. They have an
habitual respect for the sound of them, but no feeling
which spreads from the words to the things signified, and
forces the mind to take them in, and make them conform
to the formula. Whenever conduct is concerned, they look
round for Mr. A and B to direct them how far to go in
obeying Christ.

Now we may be well assured that the case was not thus,
but far otherwise, with the early Christians. Had it been
thus, Christianity never would have expanded from an ob-
scure sect of the despised Hebrews into the religion of the
Roman empire. When their enemies said, "See how these
Christians love one another" (a remark not likely to be
made by anybody now), they assuredly had a much livelier
feeling of the meaning of their creed than they have ever
had since. And to this cause, probably, it is chiefly owing
that Christianity now makes so little progress in extending
its domain, and after eighteen centuries, is still nearly con-
fined to Europeans and the descendants of Europeans. Even
with the strictly religious, who are much in earnest about
their doctrines, and attach a greater amount of meaning to
many of them than people in general, it commonly happens
that the part which is thus comparatively active in their
minds is that which was made by Calvin, or Knox, or some
such person much nearer in character to themselves. The
sayings of Christ coexist passively in their minds, producing
hardly any effect beyond what is caused by mere listening to
words so amiable and bland. There are many reasons,
doubtless, why doctrines which are the badge of a sect retain
more of their vitality than those common to all recognized
sects, and why more pains are taken by teachers to keep
their meaning alive; but one reason certainly is, that the
peculiar doctrines are more questioned, and have to be
oftener defended against open gainsayers. Both teachers
and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is
no enemy in the field.

The same thing holds true, generally speaking, of all tra-
ditional doctrines--those of prudence and knowledge of life,
as well as of morals or religion. All languages and litera-
tures are full of general observations on life, both as to what
it is, and how to conduct oneself in it; observations which
everybody knows, which everybody repeats, or hears with
acquiescence, which are received as truisms, yet of which
most people first truly learn the meaning, when experience,
generally of a painful kind, has made it a reality to them.
How often, when smarting under some unforeseen misfor-
tune or disappointment, does a person call to mind some
proverb or common saying familiar to him all his life, the
meaning of which, if he had ever before felt it as he does
now, would have saved him from the calamity. There are
indeed reasons for this, other than the absence of discussion:
there are many truths of which the full meaning cannot be
realized, until personal experience has brought it home.
But much more of the meaning even of these would have
been understood, and what was understood would have been
far more deeply impressed on the mind, if the man had been
accustomed to hear it argued pro and con by people who did
understand it. The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off
thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the
cause of half their errors. A contemporary author has well
spoken of "the deep slumber of a decided opinion."

But what! (it may be asked) Is the absence of unanimity
an indispensable condition of true knowledge? Is it neces-
sary that some part of mankind should persist in error, to
enable any to realize the truth? Does a belief cease to be
real and vital as soon as it is generally received--and is a
proposition never thoroughly understood and felt unless
some doubt of it remains? As soon as mankind have
unanimously accepted a truth, does the truth perish within
them? The highest aim and best result of improved intelli-
gence, it has hitherto been thought, is to unite mankind more
and more in the acknowledgment of all important truths:
and does the intelligence only last as long as it has not
achieved its object? Do the fruits of conquest perish by
the very completeness of the victory?

I affirm no such thing. As mankind improve, the number
of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be
constantly on the increase: and the well-being of mankind
may almost be measured by the number and gravity of the
truths which have reached the point of being uncontested.
The cessation, on one question after another, of serious con-
troversy, is one of the necessary incidents of the consolida-
tion of opinion; a consolidation as salutary in the case of
true opinions, as it is dangerous and noxious when the
opinions are erroneous. But though this gradual narrowing
of the bounds of diversity of opinion is necessary in both
senses of the term, being at once inevitable and indispensa-
ble, we are not therefore obliged to conclude that all its con-
sequences must be beneficial. The loss of so important an
aid to the intelligent and living apprehension of a truth, as
is afforded by the necessity of explaining it to, or defending
it against, opponents, though not sufficient to outweigh, is
no trifling drawback from, the benefit of its universal rec-
ognition. Where this advantage can no longer be had, I
confess I should like to see the teachers of mankind en-
deavoring to provide a substitute for it; some contrivance
for making the difficulties of the question as present to the
learner's consciousness, as if they were pressed upon him
by a dissentient champion, eager for his conversion.

But instead of seeking contrivances for this purpose, they
have lost those they formerly had. The Socratic dialectics,
so magnificently exemplified in the dialogues of Plato, were
a contrivance of this description. They were essentially a
negative discussion of the great questions of philosophy and
life, directed with consummate skill to the purpose of con-
vincing any one who had merely adopted the commonplaces
of received opinion, that he did not understand the subject
--that he as yet attached no definite meaning to the doc-
trines he professed; in order that, becoming aware of his
ignorance, he might be put in the way to attain a stable
belief, resting on a clear apprehension both of the meaning
of doctrines and of their evidence. The school disputations
of the Middle Ages had a somewhat similar object. They
were intended to make sure that the pupil understood his
own opinion, and (by necessary correlation) the opinion
opposed to it, and could enforce the grounds of the one and
confute those of the other. These last-mentioned contests
had indeed the incurable defect, that the premises appealed
to were taken from authority, not from reason; and, as a
discipline to the mind, they were in every respect inferior
to the powerful dialectics which formed the intellects of the
"Socratici viri:" but the modern mind owes far more to
both than it is generally willing to admit, and the present
modes of education contain nothing which in the smallest
degree supplies the place either of the one or of the other.
A person who derives all his instruction from teachers or
books, even if he escape the besetting temptation of con-
tenting himself with cram, is under no compulsion to hear
both sides; accordingly it is far from a frequent accomplish-
ment, even among thinkers, to know both sides; and the
weakest part of what everybody says in defence of his
opinion, is what he intends as a reply to antagonists. It is
the fashion of the present time to disparage negative logic
--that which points out weaknesses in theory or errors in
practice, without establishing positive truths. Such nega-
tive criticism would indeed be poor enough as an ultimate
result; but as a means to attaining any positive knowledge
or conviction worthy the name, it cannot be valued too high-
ly; and until people are again systematically trained to it,
there will be few great thinkers, and a low general average
of intellect, in any but the mathematical and physical de-
partments of speculation. On any other subject no one's
opinions deserve the name of knowledge, except so far as
he has either had forced upon him by others, or gone
through of himself, the same mental process which would
have been required of him in carrying on an active contro-
versy with opponents. That, therefore, which when absent,
it is so indispensable, but so difficult, to create, how worse
than absurd is it to forego, when spontaneously offering it-
self! If there are any persons who contest a received
opinion, or who will do so if law or opinion will let them,
let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them,
and rejoice that there is some one to do for us what we
otherwise ought, if we have any regard for either the cer-
tainty or the vitality of our convictions, to do with much
greater labor for ourselves.

It still remains to speak of one of the principal causes
which make diversity of opinion advantageous, and will con-
tinue to do so until mankind shall have entered a stage of
intellectual advancement which at present seems at an in-
calculable distance. We have hitherto considered only two
possibilities: that the received opinion may be false, and
some other opinion, consequently, true; or that, the received
opinion being true, a conflict with the opposite error is es-
sential to a clear apprehension and deep feeling of its truth.
But there is a commoner case than either of these; when
the conflicting doctrines, instead of being one true and the
other false, share the truth between them; and the noncon-
forming opinion is needed to supply the remainder of the
truth, of which the received doctrine embodies only a part.
Popular opinions, on subjects not palpable to sense, are
often true, but seldom or never the whole truth. They are
a part of the truth; sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller
part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjoined from the
truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited.
Heretical opinions, on the other hand, are generally some
of these suppressed and neglected truths, bursting the bonds
which kept them down, and either seeking reconciliation with
the truth contained in the common opinion, or fronting it
as enemies, and setting themselves up, with similar exclu-
siveness, as the whole truth. The latter case is hitherto the
most frequent, as, in the human mind, one-sidedness has al-
ways been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception.
Hence, even in revolutions of opinion, one part of the truth
usually sets while another rises. Even progress, which
ought to superadd, for the most part only substitutes one
partial and incomplete truth for another; improvement con-
sisting chiefly in this, that the new fragment of truth is
more wanted, more adapted to the needs of the time, than
that which it displaces. Such being the partial character of
prevailing opinions, even when resting on a true foundation;
every opinion which embodies somewhat of the portion of
truth which the common opinion omits, ought to be con-
sidered precious, with whatever amount of error and con-
fusion that truth may be blended. No sober judge of human
affairs will feel bound to be indignant because those who
force on our notice truths which we should otherwise have
overlooked, overlook some of those which we see. Rather,
he will think that so long as popular truth is one-sided, it is
more desirable than otherwise that unpopular truth should
have one-sided asserters too; such being usually the most
energetic, and the most likely to compel reluctant attention
to the fragment of wisdom which they proclaim as if it
were the whole.

Thus, in the eighteenth century, when nearly all the in-
structed, and all those of the uninstructed who were led
by them, were lost in admiration of what is called civiliza-
tion, and of the marvels of modern science, literature, and
philosophy, and while greatly overrating the amount of un-
likeness between the men of modern and those of ancient
times, indulged the belief that the whole of the difference
was in their own favor; with what a salutary shock did the
paradoxes of Rousseau explode like bombshells in the midst,
dislocating the compact mass of one-sided opinion, and
forcing its elements to recombine in a better form and with
additional ingredients. Not that the current opinions were
on the whole farther from the truth than Rousseau's were;
on the contrary, they were nearer to it; they contained more
of positive truth, and very much less of error. Nevertheless
there lay in Rousseau's doctrine, and has floated down the
stream of opinion along with it, a considerable amount of
exactly those truths which the popular opinion wanted; and
these are the deposit which was left behind when the flood
subsided. The superior worth of simplicity of life, the
enervating and demoralizing effect of the trammels and
hypocrisies of artificial society, are ideas which have never
been entirely absent from cultivated minds since Rousseau
wrote; and they will in time produce their due effect, though
at present needing to be asserted as much as ever, and to be
asserted by deeds, for words, on this subject, have nearly
exhausted their power.

In politics, again, it is almost a commonplace, that a party
of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are
both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life;
until the one or the other shall have so enlarged its mental
grasp as to be a party equally of order and of progress,
knowing and distinguishing what is fit to be preserved from
what ought to be swept away. Each of these modes of
thinking derives its utility from the deficiencies of the other;
but it is in a great measure the opposition of the other that
keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity. Unless
opinions favorable to democracy and to aristocracy, to prop-
erty and to equality, to co-operation and to competition,
to luxury and to abstinence, to sociality and individuality, to
liberty and discipline, and all the other standing antagonisms
of practical life, are expressed with equal freedom, and en-
forced and defended with equal talent and energy, there is
no chance of both elements obtaining their due; one scale
is sure to go up, and the other down. Truth, in the great
practical concerns of life, is so much a question of the
reconciling and combining of opposites, that very few have
minds sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the ad-
justment with an approach to correctness, and it has to be
made by the rough process of a struggle between com-
batants fighting under hostile banners. On any of the great
open questions just enumerated, if either of the two opinions
has a better claim than the other, not merely to be tolerated,
but to be encouraged and countenanced, it is the one which
happens at the particular time and place to be in a minority.
That is the opinion which, for the time being, represents the
neglected interests, the side of human well-being which is in
danger of obtaining less than its share. I am aware that
there is not, in this country, any intolerance of differences of
opinion on most of these topics. They are adduced to show,
by admitted and multiplied examples, the universality of the
fact, that only through diversity of opinion is there, in the
existing state of human intellect, a chance of fair play to all
sides of the truth. When there are persons to be found,
who form an exception to the apparent unanimity of the
world on any subject, even if the world is in the right, it
is always probable that dissentients have something worth
hearing to say for themselves, and that truth would lose
something by their silence.

It may be objected, "But some received principles, espe-
cially on the highest and most vital subjects, are more than
half-truths. The Christian morality, for instance, is the
whole truth on that subject and if any one teaches a morality
which varies from it, he is wholly in error." As this is of
all cases the most important in practice, none can be fitter
to test the general maxim. But before pronouncing what
Christian morality is or is not, it would be desirable to de-
cide what is meant by Christian morality. If it means the
morality of the New Testament, I wonder that any one who
derives his knowledge of this from the book itself, can sup-
pose that it was announced, or intended, as a complete doc-
trine of morals. The Gospel always refers to a preexisting
morality, and confines its precepts to the particulars in which
that morality was to be corrected, or superseded by a wider
and higher; expressing itself, moreover, in terms most gen-
eral, often impossible to be interpreted literally, and possess-
ing rather the impressiveness of poetry or eloquence than the
precision of legislation. To extract from it a body of ethi-
cal doctrine, has never been possible without eking it out
from the Old Testament, that is, from a system elaborate
indeed, but in many respects barbarous, and intended only
for a barbarous people. St. Paul, a declared enemy to this
Judaical mode of interpreting the doctrine and filling up the
scheme of his Master, equally assumes a preexisting moral-
ity, namely, that of the Greeks and Romans; and his
advice to Christians is in a great measure a system of ac-
commodation to that; even to the extent of giving an ap-
parent sanction to slavery. What is called Christian, but
should rather be termed theological, morality, was not the
work of Christ or the Apostles, but is of much later origin,
having been gradually built up by the Catholic Church of the
first five centuries, and though not implicitly adopted by mod-
erns and Protestants, has been much less modified by them
than might have been expected. For the most part, indeed,
they have contented themselves with cutting off the additions
which had been made to it in the Middle Ages, each sect
supplying the place by fresh additions, adapted to its own
character and tendencies. That mankind owe a great debt
to this morality, and to its early teachers, I should be the
last person to deny; but I do not scruple to say of it, that
it is, in many important points, incomplete and one-sided,
and that unless ideas and feelings, not sanctioned by it, had
contributed to the formation of European life and character,
human affairs would have been in a worse condition than
they now are. Christian morality (so called) has all the
characters of a reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against
Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive; pas-
sive rather than active; Innocence rather than Nobleness;
Abstinence from Evil, rather than energetic Pursuit of
Good: in its precepts (as has been well said) "thou shalt
not" predominates unduly over "thou shalt." In its horror
of sensuality, it made an idol of asceticism, which has been
gradually compromised away into one of legality. It holds
out the hope of heaven and the threat of hell, as the ap-
pointed and appropriate motives to a virtuous life: in this
falling far below the best of the ancients, and doing what
lies in it to give to human morality an essentially selfish
character, by disconnecting each man's feelings of duty
from the interests of his fellow-creatures, except so far as
a self-interested inducement is offered to him for consulting
them. It is essentially a doctrine of passive obedience; it
inculcates submission to all authorities found established;
who indeed are not to be actively obeyed when they com-
mand what religion forbids, but who are not to be resisted,
far less rebelled against, for any amount of wrong to our-
selves. And while, in the morality of the best Pagan na-
tions, duty to the State holds even a disproportionate place,
infringing on the just liberty of the individual; in purely
Christian ethics that grand department of duty is scarcely
noticed or acknowledged. It is in the Koran, not the New
Testament, that we read the maxim--"A ruler who appoints
any man to an office, when there is in his dominions another
man better qualified for it, sins against God and against the
State." What little recognition the idea of obligation to the
public obtains in modern morality, is derived from Greek and
Roman sources, not from Christian; as, even in the morality
of private life, whatever exists of magnanimity, high-mind-
edness, personal dignity, even the sense of honor, is de-
rived from the purely human, not the religious part of our
education, and never could have grown out of a standard of
ethics in which the only worth, professedly recognized, is
that of obedience.

I am as far as any one from pretending that these defects
are necessarily inherent in the Christian ethics, in every
manner in which it can be conceived, or that the many
requisites of a complete moral doctrine which it does not
contain, do not admit of being reconciled with it. Far less
would I insinuate this of the doctrines and precepts of
Christ himself. I believe that the sayings of Christ are all,
that I can see any evidence of their having been intended to
be; that they are irreconcilable with nothing which a com-
prehensive morality requires; that everything which is ex-
cellent in ethics may be brought within them, with no greater
violence to their language than has been done to it by all
who have attempted to deduce from them any practical sys-
tem of conduct whatever. But it is quite consistent with
this, to believe that they contain and were meant to con-
tain, only a part of the truth; that many essential elements
of the highest morality are among the things which are not
provided for, nor intended to be provided for, in the re-
corded deliverances of the Founder of Christianity, and
which have been entirely thrown aside in the system of
ethics erected on the basis of those deliverances by the
Christian Church. And this being so, I think it a great
error to persist in attempting to find in the Christian doc-
trine that complete rule for our guidance, which its author
intended it to sanction and enforce, but only partially to
provide. I believe, too, that this narrow theory is becoming
a grave practical evil, detracting greatly from the value
of the moral training and instruction, which so many well-
meaning persons are now at length exerting themselves to
promote. I much fear that by attempting to form the mind
and feelings on an exclusively religious type, and discarding
those secular standards (as for want of a better name they
may be called) which heretofore coexisted with and sup-
plemented the Christian ethics, receiving some of its spirit,
and infusing into it some of theirs, there will result, and is
even now resulting, a low, abject, servile type of character,
which, submit itself as it may to what it deems the Supreme
Will, is incapable of rising to or sympathizing in the concep-
tion of Supreme Goodness. I believe that other ethics than
any one which can be evolved from exclusively Christian
sources, must exist side by side with Christian ethics to
produce the moral regeneration of mankind; and that the
Christian system is no exception to the rule that in an
imperfect state of the human mind, the interests of truth
require a diversity of opinions. It is not necessary that in
ceasing to ignore the moral truths not contained in Christi-
anity, men should ignore any of those which it does contain.
Such prejudice, or oversight, when it occurs, is altogether an
evil; but it is one from which we cannot hope to be always
exempt, and must be regarded as the price paid for an in-
estimable good. The exclusive pretension made by a part
of the truth to be the whole, must and ought to be protested
against, and if a reactionary impulse should make the pro-
testors unjust in their turn, this one-sidedness, like the other,
may be lamented, but must be tolerated. If Christians
would teach infidels to be just to Christianity, they should
themselves be just to infidelity. It can do truth no service
to blink the fact, known to all who have the most ordinary
acquaintance with literary history, that a large portion of
the noblest and most valuable moral teaching has been the
work, not only of men who did not know, but of men who
knew and rejected, the Christian faith.

I do not pretend that the most unlimited use of the free-
dom of enunciating all possible opinions would put an end to
the evils of religious or philosophical sectarianism. Every
truth which men of narrow capacity are in earnest about,
is sure to be asserted, inculcated, and in many ways even
acted on, as if no other truth existed in the world, or at all
events none that could limit or qualify the first. I ac-
knowledge that the tendency of all opinions to become sec-
tarian is not cured by the freest discussion, but is often
heightened and exacerbated thereby; the truth which ought
to have been, but was not, seen, being rejected all the more
violently because proclaimed by persons regarded as oppo-
nents. But it is not on the impassioned partisan, it is on
the calmer and more disinterested bystander, that this col-
lision of opinions works its salutary effect. Not the violent
conflict between parts of the truth, but the quiet suppression
of half of it, is the formidable evil: there is always hope
when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when
they attend only to one that errors harden into prejudices,
and truth itself ceases to have the effect of truth, by being
exaggerated into falsehood. And since there are few
mental attributes more rare than that judicial faculty which
can sit in intelligent judgment between two sides of a
question, of which only one is represented by an advocate
before it, truth has no chance but in proportion as every
side of it, every opinion which embodies any fraction of the
truth, not only finds advocates, but is so advocated as to be
listened to.

We have now recognized the necessity to the mental well-
being of mankind (on which all their other well-being de-
pends) of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expres-
sion of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we will
now briefly recapitulate.

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion
may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this
is to assume our own infallibility.

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may,
and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and
since the general or prevailing opinion on any object is
rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision
of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any
chance of being supplied.

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true,
but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually
is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of
those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice,
with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds.
And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine
itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and
deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct:
the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious
for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the
growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or
personal experience.

Before quitting the subject of freedom of opinion, it is
fit to take notice of those who say, that the free expression
of all opinions should be permitted, on condition that the
manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair
discussion. Much might be said on the impossibility of fix-
ing where these supposed bounds are to be placed; for if the
test be offence to those whose opinion is attacked, I think
experience testifies that this offence is given whenever the
attack is telling and powerful, and that every opponent who
pushes them hard, and whom they find it difficult to answer,
appears to them, if he shows any strong feeling on the sub-
ject, an intemperate opponent. But this, though an impor-
tant consideration in a practical point of view, merges in a
more fundamental objection. Undoubtedly the manner of
asserting an opinion, even though it be a true one, may be
very objectionable, and may justly incur severe censure.
But the principal offences of the kind are such as it
is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal, to
bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue
sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the
elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion.
But all this, even to the most aggravated degree, is so con-
tinually done in perfect good faith, by persons who are not
considered, and in many other respects may not deserve to be
considered, ignorant or incompetent, that it is rarely pos-
sible on adequate grounds conscientiously to stamp the mis-
representation as morally culpable; and still less could law
presume to interfere with this kind of controversial miscon-
duct. With regard to what is commonly meant by intemperate
discussion, namely, invective, sarcasm, personality, and the
like, the denunciation of these weapons would deserve more
sympathy if it were ever proposed to interdict them equally to
both sides; but it is only desired to restrain the employ-
ment of them against the prevailing opinion: against the
unprevailing they may not only be used without general
disapproval, but will be likely to obtain for him who uses
them the praise of honest zeal and righteous indignation.
Yet whatever mischief arises from their use, is greatest
when they are employed against the comparatively defence-
less; and whatever unfair advantage can be derived by any
opinion from this mode of asserting it, accrues almost ex-
clusively to received opinions. The worst offence of this
kind which can be committed by a polemic, is to stigma-
tize those who hold the contrary opinion as bad and im-
moral men. To calumny of this sort, those who hold any
unpopular opinion are peculiarly exposed, because they are
in general few and uninfluential, and nobody but them-
selves feels much interest in seeing justice done them;
but this weapon is, from the nature of the case, denied
to those who attack a prevailing opinion: they can neither
use it with safety to themselves, nor if they could, would
it do anything but recoil on their own cause. In general,
opinions contrary to those commonly received can only ob-
tain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the
most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which
they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without
losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on
the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people
from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to
those who profess them. For the interest, therefore, of
truth and justice, it is far more important to restrain this
employment of vituperative language than the other; and,
for example, if it were necessary to choose, there would
be much more need to discourage offensive attacks on in-
fidelity, than on religion. It is, however, obvious that law
and authority have no business with restraining either,
while opinion ought, in every instance, to determine its
verdict by the circumstances of the individual case; condemn-
ing every one, on whichever side of the argument he places
himself, in whose mode of advocacy either want of candor,
or malignity, bigotry or intolerance of feeling manifest them-
selves, but not inferring these vices from the side which a
person takes, though it be the contrary side of the question
to our own; and giving merited honor to every one, whatever
opinion he may hold, who has calmness to see and honesty
to state what his opponents and their opinions really are,
exaggerating nothing to their discredit, keeping nothing back
which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their favor. This
is the real morality of public discussion; and if often vio-
lated, I am happy to think that there are many controver-
sialists who to a great extent observe it, and a still greater
number who conscientiously strive towards it.

[1] These words had scarcely been written, when, as if to give them an
emphatic contradiction, occurred the Government Press Prosecutions of
1858. That illjudged interference with the liberty of public discussion has
not, however, induced me to alter a single word in the text, nor has it at
all weakened my conviction that, moments of panic excepted, the era of
pains and penalties far political discussion has, in our own country, passed
away. For, in the first place, the prosecutions were not persisted in; and
in the second, they were never, properly speaking, political prosecutions.
The offence charged was not that of criticizing institutions, or the acts or
persons of rulers, but of circulating what was deemed an immoral doctrine,
the lawfulness of Tyrannicide.

If the arguments of the present chapter are of any validity, there ought
to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of
ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.
It would, therefore, be irrelevant and out of place to examine here, whether
the doctrine of Tyrannicide deserves that title. I shall content myself with
saying, that the subject has been at all times one of the open questions of
morals, that the act of a private citizen in striking down a criminal, who,
by raising himself above the law, has placed himself beyond the reach of
legal punishment or control, has been accounted by whole nations, and by
some of the best and wisest of men, not a crime, but an act of exalted
virtue and that, right or wrong, it is not of the nature of assassination
but of civil war. As such, I hold that the instigation to it, in a specific
case, may be a proper subject of punishment, but only if an overt act has
followed, and at least a probable connection can be established between the
act and the instigation. Even then it is not a foreign government, but the
very government assailed, which alone, in the exercise of self-defence, can
legitimately punish attacks directed against its own existence.

[2] Thomas Pooley, Bodmin Assizes, July 31, 1857. In December following,
he received a free pardon from the Crown.

[3] George Jacob Holyoake, August 17, 1857; Edward Truelove, July, 1857.

[4] Baron de Gleichen, Marlborough Street Police Court, August 4, 1857.

[5] Ample warning may be drawn from the large infusion of the passions
of a persecutor, which mingled with the general display of the worst parts
of our national character on the occasion of the Sepoy insurrection. The
ravings of fanatics or charlatans from the pulpit may be unworthy of
notice; but the heads of the Evangelical party have announced as their
principle, for the government of Hindoos and Mahomedans, that no schools
be supported by public money in which the Bible is not taught, and by
necessary consequence that no public employment be given to any but real
or pretended Christians. An Under-Secretary of State, in a speech deliv-
ered to his constituents on the 12th of November, 1857, is reported to have
said: "Toleration of their faith" (the faith of a hundred millions of
British subjects), "the superstition which they called religion, by the
British Government, had had the effect of retarding the ascendency of
the British name, and preventing the salutary growth of Christianity....
Toleration was the great corner-stone of the religious liberties of this coun-
try; but do not let them abuse that precious word toleration. As he
understood it, it meant the complete liberty to all, freedom of worship,
among Christians, who worshipped upon the same foundation. It meant
toleration of all sects and denominations of Christians who believed in the
one mediation." I desire to call attention to the fact, that a man who has
been deemed fit to fill a high office in the government of this country, under
a liberal Ministry, maintains the doctrine that all who do not believe in the
divinity of Christ are beyond the pale of toleration. Who, after this imbe-
cile display, can indulge the illusion that religious persecution has passed
away, never to return?



SUCH being the reasons which make it imperative that
human beings should be free to form opinions, and
to express their opinions without reserve; and such
the baneful consequences to the intellectual, and through
that to the moral nature of man, unless this liberty
is either conceded, or asserted in spite of prohibition; let
us next examine whether the same reasons do not require
that men should be free to act upon their opinions--to carry
these out in their lives, without hindrance, either physical
or moral, from their fellow-men, so long as it is at their
own risk and peril. This last proviso is of course indispen-
sable. No one pretends that actions should be as free as
opinions. On the contrary, even opinions lose their im-
munity, when the circumstances in which they are ex-
pressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive
instigation to some mischievous act. An opinion that corn-
dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property
is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated
through the press, but may justly incur punishment when
delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the
house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the
same mob in the form of a placard. Acts of whatever kind,
which, without justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be,
and in the more important cases absolutely require to be,
controlled by the unfavorable sentiments, and, when needful,
by the active interference of mankind. The liberty of the
individual must be thus far limited; he must not make him-
self a nuisance to other people. But if he refrains from
molesting others in what concerns them, and merely acts
according to his own inclination and judgment in things
which concern himself, the same reasons which show that
opinion should be free, prove also that he should be allowed,
without molestation, to carry his opinions into practice
at his own cost. That mankind are not infallible; that their
truths, for the most part, are only half-truths; that unity
of opinion, unless resulting from the fullest and freest com-
parison of opposite opinions, is not desirable, and diversity
not an evil, but a good, until mankind are much more ca-
pable than at present of recognizing all sides of the truth,
are principles applicable to men's modes of action, not less
than to their opinions. As it is useful that while mankind
are imperfect there should be different opinions, so is it
that there should be different experiments of living; that
free scope should be given to varieties of character, short
of injury to others; and that the worth of different modes
of life should be proved practically, when any one thinks
fit to try them. It is desirable, in short, that in things which
do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert
itself. Where, not the person's own character, but the tradi-
tions of customs of other people are the rule of conduct,
there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human
happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and
social progress.

In maintaining this principle, the greatest difficulty to be
encountered does not lie in the appreciation of means
towards an acknowledged end, but in the indifference of
persons in general to the end itself. If it were felt that the
free development of individuality is one of the leading es-
sentials of well-being; that it is not only a coordinate ele-
ment with all that is designated by the terms civilization,
instruction, education, culture, but is itself a necessary part
and condition of all those things; there would be no danger
that liberty should be undervalued, and the adjustment of the
boundaries between it and social control would present no
extraordinary difficulty. But the evil is, that individual spon-
taneity is hardly recognized by the common modes of think-
ing as having any intrinsic worth, or deserving any regard
on its own account. The majority, being satisfied with the
ways of mankind as they now are (for it is they who make
them what they are), cannot comprehend why those ways
should not be good enough for everybody; and what is more,
spontaneity forms no part of the ideal of the majority of
moral and social reformers, but is rather looked on with
jealousy, as a troublesome and perhaps rebellious obstruc-
tion to the general acceptance of what these reformers, in
their own judgment, think would be best for mankind. Few
persons, out of Germany, even comprehend the meaning of
the doctrine which Wilhelm von Humboldt, so eminent both
as a savant and as a politician, made the text of a treatise--
that "the end of man, or that which is prescribed by the
eternal or immutable dictates of reason, and not suggested
by vague and transient desires, is the highest and most har-
monious development of his powers to a complete and con-
sistent whole;" that, therefore, the object "towards which
every human being must ceaselessly direct his efforts, and
on which especially those who design to influence their
fellow-men must ever keep their eyes, is the individuality
of power and development;" that for this there are two
requisites, "freedom, and a variety of situations;" and
that from the union of these arise "individual vigor and
manifold diversity," which combine themselves in "origi-

Little, however, as people are accustomed to a doctrine
like that of Von Humboldt, and surprising as it may be to
them to find so high a value attached to individuality, the
question, one must nevertheless think, can only be one of
degree. No one's idea of excellence in conduct is that people
should do absolutely nothing but copy one another. No
one would assert that people ought not to put into their
mode of life, and into the conduct of their concerns, any
impress whatever of their own judgment, or of their own
individual character. On the other hand, it would be absurd
to pretend that people ought to live as if nothing whatever
had been known in the world before they came into it; as if
experience had as yet done nothing towards showing that
one mode of existence, or of conduct, is preferable to an-
other. Nobody denies that people should be so taught and
trained in youth, as to know and benefit by the ascertained
results of human experience. But it is the privilege and
proper condition of a human being, arrived at the maturity
of his faculties, to use and interpret experience in his own
way. It is for him to find out what part of recorded ex-
perience is properly applicable to his own circumstances and
character. The traditions and customs of other people are,
to a certain extent, evidence of what their experience has
taught them; presumptive evidence, and as such, have a
claim to this deference: but, in the first place, their experi-
ence may be too narrow; or they may not have interpreted
it rightly. Secondly, their interpretation of experience may
be correct but unsuitable to him. Customs are made for
customary circumstances, and customary characters: and
his circumstances or his character may be uncustomary.
Thirdly, though the customs be both good as customs,
and suitable to him, yet to conform to custom, merely
as custom, does not educate or develop in him any
of the qualities which are the distinctive endowment of a
human being. The human faculties of perception, judg-
ment, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral
preference, are exercised only in making a choice. He
who does anything because it is the custom, makes no
choice. He gains no practice either in discerning or in de-
siring what is best. The mental and moral, like the mus-
cular powers, are improved only by being used. The facul-
ties are called into no exercise by doing a thing merely
because others do it, no more than by believing a thing only
because others believe it. If the grounds of an opinion
are not conclusive to the person's own reason, his reason
cannot be strengthened, but is likely to be weakened by his
adopting it: and if the inducements to an act are not such
as are consentaneous to his own feelings and character
(where affection, or the rights of others are not concerned),
it is so much done towards rendering his feelings and char-
acter inert and torpid, instead of active and energetic.

He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose
his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty
than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his
plan for himself, employs all his faculties. He must use
observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee, ac-
tivity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to
decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control
to hold to his deliberate decision. And these qualities he
requires and exercises exactly in proportion as the part of his
conduct which he determines according to his own judgment
and feelings is a large one. It is possible that he might be
guided in some good path, and kept out of harm's way, with-
out any of these things. But what will be his comparative
worth as a human being? It really is of importance, not
only what men do, but also what manner of men they are
that do it. Among the works of man, which human life is
rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying, the first in
importance surely is man himself. Supposing it were pos-
sible to get houses built, corn grown, battles fought, causes
tried, and even churches erected and prayers said, by ma-
chinery--by automatons in human form--it would be a con-
siderable loss to exchange for these automatons even the
men and women who at present inhabit the more civilized
parts of the world, and who assuredly are but starved speci-
mens of what nature can and will produce. Human nature
is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do
exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires
to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the
tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.

It will probably be conceded that it is desirable people
should exercise their understandings, and that an intelligent
following of custom, or even occasionally an intelligent de-
viation from custom, is better than a blind and simply
mechanical adhesion to it. To a certain extent it is ad-
mitted, that our understanding should be our own: but there
is not the same willingness to admit that our desires and
impulses should be our own likewise; or that to possess im-
pulses of our own, and of any strength, is anything but a
peril and a snare. Yet desires and impulses are as much
a part of a perfect human being, as beliefs and restraints:
and strong impulses are only perilous when not properly
balanced; when one set of aims and inclinations is developed
into strength, while others, which ought to coexist with
them, remain weak and inactive. It is not because men's
desires are strong that they act ill; it is because their con-
sciences are weak. There is no natural connection between
strong impulses and a weak conscience. The natural con-
nection is the other way. To say that one person's desires
and feelings are stronger and more various than those of an-
other, is merely to say that he has more of the raw material
of human nature, and is therefore capable, perhaps of more
evil, but certainly of more good. Strong impulses are but
another name for energy. Energy may be turned to bad
uses; but more good may always be made of an energetic
nature, than of an indolent and impassive one. Those who
have most natural feeling, are always those whose cultivated
feelings may be made the strongest. The same strong sus-
ceptibilities which make the personal impulses vivid and
powerful, are also the source from whence are generated
the most passionate love of virtue, and the sternest self-
control. It is through the cultivation of these, that society
both does its duty and protects its interests: not by rejecting
the stuff of which heroes are made, because it knows not
how to make them. A person whose desires and impulses
are his own--are the expression of his own nature, as it has
been developed and modified by his own culture--is said to
have a character. One whose desires and impulses are not
his owN, has no character, no more than a steam-engine has
a character. If, in addition to being his own, his impulses
are strong, and are under the government of a strong will,
he has an energetic character. Whoever thinks that indi-
viduality of desires and impulses should not be encouraged
to unfold itself, must maintain that society has no need of
strong natures--is not the better for containing many per-
sons who have much character--and that a high general
average of energy is not desirable.

In some early states of society, these forces might be,
and were, too much ahead of the power which society then
possessed of disciplining and controlling them. There has
been a time when the element of spontaneity and individu-
ality was in excess, and the social principle had a hard
struggle with it. The difficulty then was, to induce men of
strong bodies or minds to pay obedience to any rules which
required them to control their impulses. To overcome this
difficulty, law and discipline, like the Popes struggling against
the Emperors, asserted a power over the whole man, claiming
to control all his life in order to control his character--
which society had not found any other sufficient means of
binding. But society has now fairly got the better of indi-
viduality; and the danger which threatens human nature
is not the excess, but the deficiency, of personal impulses and
preferences. Things are vastly changed, since the passions
of those who were strong by station or by personal en-
dowment were in a state of habitual rebellion against laws
and ordinances, and required to be rigorously chained up to
enable the persons within their reach to enjoy any particle
of security. In our times, from the highest class of society
down to the lowest every one lives as under the eye of a
hostile and dreaded censorship. Not only in what concerns
others, but in what concerns only themselves, the individual,
or the family, do not ask themselves--what do I prefer? or,
what would suit my character and disposition? or, what
would allow the best and highest in me to have fair play, and
enable it to grow and thrive? They ask themselves, what
is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons
of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still)
what is usually done by persons of a station and circum-
stances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose
what is customary, in preference to what suits their own
inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclina-
tion, except for what is customary. Thus the mind itself
is bowed to the yoke: even in what people do for pleasure,
conformity is the first thing thought of; they like in crowds;
they exercise choice only among things commonly done:
peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned
equally with crimes: until by dint of not following their
own nature, they have no nature to follow: their human
capacities are withered and starved: they become incapable
of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are generally
without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or
properly their own. Now is this, or is it not, the desirable
condition of human nature?

It is so, on the Calvinistic theory. According to that,
the one great offence of man is Self-will. All the
good of which humanity is capable, is comprised in Obedi-
ence. You have no choice; thus you must do, and no other-
wise; "whatever is not a duty is a sin." Human nature be-
ing radically corrupt, there is no redemption for any one
until human nature is killed within him. To one holding
this theory of life, crushing out any of the human faculties,
capacities, and susceptibilities, is no evil: man needs no
capacity, but that of surrendering himself to the will of
God: and if he uses any of his faculties for any other
purpose but to do that supposed will more effectually, he is
better without them. That is the theory of Calvinism; and
it is held, in a mitigated form, by many who do not con-
sider themselves Calvinists; the mitigation consisting in
giving a less ascetic interpretation to the alleged will of
God; asserting it to be his will that mankind should gratify
some of their inclinations; of course not in the manner
they themselves prefer, but in the way of obedience, that
is, in a way prescribed to them by authority; and, therefore,
by the necessary conditions of the case, the same for all.

In some such insidious form there is at present a strong
tendency to this narrow theory of life, and to the pinched
and hidebound type of human character which it patronizes.
Many persons, no doubt, sincerely think that human beings
thus cramped and dwarfed, are as their Maker designed
them to be; just as many have thought that trees are a
much finer thing when clipped into pollards, or cut out
into figures of animals, than as nature made them. But if
it be any part of religion to believe that man was made by
a good Being, it is more consistent with that faith to
believe, that this Being gave all human faculties that they
might be cultivated and unfolded, not rooted out and con-
sumed, and that he takes delight in every nearer approach
made by his creatures to the ideal conception embodied in
them, every increase in any of their capabilities of com-
prehension, of action, or of enjoyment. There is a different
type of human excellence from the Calvinistic; a conception
of humanity as having its nature bestowed on it for other
purposes than merely to be abnegated. "Pagan self-
assertion" is one of the elements of human worth,
as well as "Christian self-denial."[2] There is a Greek
ideal of self-development, which the Platonic and Chris-
tian ideal of self-government blends with, but does
not supersede. It may be better to be a John Knox than
an Alcibiades, but it is better to be a Pericles than either;
nor would a Pericles, if we had one in these days, be without
anything good which belonged to John Knox.

It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is
individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling
it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests
of others, that human beings become a noble and beautiful
object of contemplation; and as the works partake the char-
acter of those who do them, by the same process human
life also becomes rich, diversified, and animating, furnish-
ing more abundant aliment to high thoughts and elevating
feelings, and strengthening the tie which binds every in-
dividual to the race, by making the race infinitely better
worth belonging to. In proportion to the development of his
individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself,
and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others.
There is a greater fulness of life about his own existence,
and when there is more life in the units there is more
in the mass which is composed of them. As much com-
pression as is necessary to prevent the stronger specimens
of human nature from encroaching on the rights of others,
cannot be dispensed with; but for this there is ample com-
pensation even in the point of view of human develop-
ment. The means of development which the individual
loses by being prevented from gratifying his inclinations
to the injury of others, are chiefly obtained at the expense
of the development of other people. And even to himself
there is a full equivalent in the better development of the
social part of his nature, rendered possible by the restraint
put upon the selfish part. To be held to rigid rules of
justice for the sake of others, develops the feelings and
capacities which have the good of others for their object.
But to be restrained in things not affecting their good, by
their mere displeasure, develops nothing valuable, except
such force of character as may unfold itself in resisting
the restraint. If acquiesced in, it dulls and blunts the
whole nature. To give any fair play to the nature of each,
it is essential that different persons should be allowed to lead
different lives. In proportion as this latitude has been ex-
ercised in any age, has that age been noteworthy to posterity.
Even despotism does not produce its worst effects, so long
as Individuality exists under it; and whatever crushes in-
dividuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called,
and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God
or the injunctions of men.

Having said that Individuality is the same thing with
development, and that it is only the cultivation of individ-
uality which produces, or can produce, well-developed human
beings, I might here close the argument: for what more
or better can be said of any condition of human affairs,
than that it brings human beings themselves nearer to the
best thing they can be? or what worse can be said of any
obstruction to good, than that it prevents this? Doubtless,
however, these considerations will not suffice to convince
those who most need convincing; and it is necessary
further to show, that these developed human beings
are of some use to the undeveloped--to point out to
those who do not desire liberty, and would not avail them-
selves of it, that they may be in some intelligible manner
rewarded for allowing other people to make use of it with-
out hindrance.

In the first place, then, I would suggest that they might
possibly learn something from them. It will not be denied
by anybody, that originality is a valuable element in human
affairs. There is always need of persons not only to discover
new truths, and point out when what were once truths
are true no longer, but also to commence new practices, and
set the example of more enlightened conduct, and better
taste and sense in human life. This cannot well be gainsaid
by anybody who does not believe that the world has already
attained perfection in all its ways and practices. It is true
that this benefit is not capable of being rendered by every-
body alike: there are but few persons, in comparison with
the whole of mankind, whose experiments, if adopted by
others, would be likely to be any improvement on established
practice. But these few are the salt of the earth; without
them, human life would become a stagnant pool. Not only is
it they who introduce good things which did not before
exist; it is they who keep the life in those which already
existed. If there were nothing new to be done, would
human intellect cease to be necessary? Would it be a reason
why those who do the old things should forget why they
are done, and do them like cattle, not like human beings?
There is only too great a tendency in the best beliefs and
practices to degenerate into the mechanical; and unless there
were a succession of persons whose ever-recurring origi-
nality prevents the grounds of those beliefs and practices
from becoming merely traditional, such dead matter would
not resist the smallest shock from anything really alive, and
there would be no reason why civilization should not die
out, as in the Byzantine Empire. Persons of genius, it is
true, are, and are always likely to be, a small minority;
but in order to have them, it is necessary to preserve the
soil in which they grow. Genius can only breathe freely
in an atmosphere of freedom. Persons of genius are, ex
vi termini, more individual than any other people--less
capable, consequently, of fitting themselves, without hurt-
ful compression, into any of the small number of moulds
which society provides in order to save its members the
trouble of forming their own character. If from timidity
they consent to be forced into one of these moulds, and to
let all that part of themselves which cannot expand under
the pressure remain unexpanded, society will be little the
better for their genius. If they are of a strong character,
and break their fetters they become a mark for the society
which has not succeeded in reducing them to common-place,
to point at with solemn warning as "wild," "erratic," and
the like; much as if one should complain of the Niagara
river for not flowing smoothly between its banks like a
Dutch canal.

I insist thus emphatically on the importance of genius,
and the necessity of allowing it to unfold itself freely both
in thought and in practice, being well aware that no one
will deny the position in theory, but knowing also that almost
every one, in reality, is totally indifferent to it. People
think genius a fine thing if it enables a man to write an
exciting poem, or paint a picture. But in its true sense,
that of originality in thought and action, though no one
says that it is not a thing to be admired, nearly all, at
heart, think they can do very well without it. Unhappily
this is too natural to be wondered at. Originality is the
one thing which unoriginal minds cannot feel the use of.
They cannot see what it is to do for them: how should they?
If they could see what it would do for them, it would not
be originality. The first service which originality has to
render them, is that of opening their eyes: which being
once fully done, they would have a chance of being them-
selves original. Meanwhile, recollecting that nothing was
ever yet done which some one was not the first to do, and
that all good things which exist are the fruits of originality,
let them be modest enough to believe that there is something
still left for it to accomplish, and assure themselves that
they are more in need of originality, the less they are
conscious of the want.

In sober truth, whatever homage may be professed, or
even paid, to real or supposed mental superiority, the gen-
eral tendency of things throughout the world is to render
mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind. In ancient
history, in the Middle Ages, and in a diminishing degree
through the long transition from feudality to the present
time, the individual was a power in himself; and If he
had either great talents or a high social position, he was
a considerable power. At present individuals are lost in the
crowd. In politics it is almost a triviality to say that public
opinion now rules the world. The only power deserving
the name is that of masses, and of governments while they
make themselves the organ of the tendencies and instincts
of masses. This is as true in the moral and social relations
of private life as in public transactions. Those whose
opinions go by the name of public opinion, are not always
the same sort of public: in America, they are the whole
white population; in England, chiefly the middle class. But
they are always a mass, that is to say, collective mediocrity.
And what is still greater novelty, the mass do not now
take their opinions from dignitaries in Church or State, from
ostensible leaders, or from books. Their thinking is done
for them by men much like themselves, addressing them or
speaking in their name, on the spur of the moment, through
the newspapers. I am not complaining of all this. I do
not assert that anything better is compatible, as a general
rule, with the present low state of the human mind. But
that does not hinder the government of mediocrity from
being mediocre government. No government by a democ-
racy or a numerous aristocracy, either in its political acts
or in the opinions, qualities, and tone of mind which it
fosters, ever did or could rise above mediocrity, except in
so far as the sovereign Many have let themselves be
guided (which in their best times they always have done)
by the counsels and influence of a more highly gifted and
instructed One or Few. The initiation of all wise or noble
things, comes and must come from individuals; generally
at first from some one individual. The honor and glory of
the average man is that he is capable of following that
initiative; that he can respond internally to wise and noble
things, and be led to them with his eyes open. I am not
countenancing the sort of "hero-worship" which applauds
the strong man of genius for forcibly seizing on the govern-
ment of the world and making it do his bidding in spite
of itself. All he can claim is, freedom to point out the way.
The power of compelling others into it, is not only incon-
sistent with the freedom and development of all the rest,
but corrupting to the strong man himself. It does seem, how-
ever, that when the opinions of masses of merely average
men are everywhere become or becoming the dominant
power, the counterpoise and corrective to that tendency
would be, the more and more pronounced individuality of
those who stand on the higher eminences of thought. It
Is in these circumstances most especially, that exceptional
individuals, instead of being deterred, should be encouraged
in acting differently from the mass. In other times there
was no advantage in their doing so, unless they acted not
only differently, but better. In this age the mere example
of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to
custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of
opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is
desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that
people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded
when and where strength of character has abounded; and
the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been
proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and
moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare
to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.

I have said that it is important to give the freest scope
possible to uncustomary things, in order that it may in time
appear which of these are fit to be converted into customs.
But independence of action, and disregard of custom are not
solely deserving of encouragement for the chance they
afford that better modes of action, and customs more worthy
of general adoption, may be struck out; nor is it only per-
sons of decided mental superiority who have a just claim
to carry on their lives in their own way. There is no reason
that all human existences should be constructed on some one,
or some small number of patterns. If a person possesses
any tolerable amount of common sense and experience, his
own mode of laying out his existence is the best, not because
it is the best in itself, but because it is his own mode. Hu-
man beings are not like sheep; and even sheep are not un-
distinguishably alike. A man cannot get a coat or a pair
of boots to fit him, unless they are either made to his meas-
ure, or he has a whole warehouseful to choose from: and is
it easier to fit him with a life than with a coat, or are hu-
man beings more like one another in their whole physical
and spiritual conformation than in the shape of their feet?
If it were only that people have diversities of taste that
is reason enough for not attempting to shape them
all after one model. But different persons also require dif-
ferent conditions for their spiritual development; and can
no more exist healthily in the same moral, than all the
variety of plants can in the same physical atmosphere and
climate. The same things which are helps to one person
towards the cultivation of his higher nature, are hindrances
to another. The same mode of life is a healthy excitement
to one, keeping all his faculties of action and enjoyment in
their best order, while to another it is a distracting burden,
which suspends or crushes all internal life. Such are the
differences among human beings in their sources of pleasure,
their susceptibilities of pain, and the operation on them of
different physical and moral agencies, that unless there is a
corresponding diversity in their modes of life, they neither
obtain their fair share of happiness, nor grow up to the
mental, moral, and aesthetic stature of which their nature is
capable. Why then should tolerance, as far as the public
sentiment is concerned, extend only to tastes and modes of
life which extort acquiescence by the multitude of their ad-
herents? Nowhere (except in some monastic institutions)
is diversity of taste entirely unrecognized; a person may
without blame, either like or dislike rowing, or smoking, or
music, or athletic exercises, or chess, or cards, or study, be-
cause both those who like each of these things, and those
who dislike them, are too numerous to be put down. But the
man, and still more the woman, who can be accused either
of doing "what nobody does," or of not doing "what every-
body does," is the subject of as much depreciatory remark
as if he or she had committed some grave moral delinquency.
Persons require to possess a title, or some other badge of
rank, or the consideration of people of rank, to be able to
indulge somewhat in the luxury of doing as they like with-
out detriment to their estimation. To indulge somewhat, I
repeat: for whoever allow themselves much of that in
dulgence, incur the risk of something worse than disparag-
ing speeches--they are in peril of a commission de lunatico,
and of having their property taken from them and given to
their relations.[3]

There is one characteristic of the present direction of
public opinion, peculiarly calculated to make it intolerant of
any marked demonstration of individuality. The general
average of mankind are not only moderate in intellect, but
also moderate in inclinations: they have no tastes or wishes
strong enough to incline them to do anything unusual, and
they consequently do not understand those who have, and
class all such with the wild and intemperate whom they are
accustomed to look down upon. Now, in addition to this
fact which is general, we have only to suppose that a strong
movement has set in towards the improvement of morals,
and it is evident what we have to expect. In these days
such a movement has set in; much has actually been effected
in the way of increased regularity of conduct, and discour-
agement of excesses; and there is a philanthropic spirit
abroad, for the exercise of which there is no more inviting
field than the moral and prudential improvement of our
fellow-creatures. These tendencies of the times cause the
public to be more disposed than at most former periods to
prescribe general rules of conduct, and endeavor to make
every one conform to the approved standard. And that
standard, express or tacit, is to desire nothing strongly. Its
ideal of character is to be without any marked character; to
maim by compression, like a Chinese lady's foot, every part
of human nature which stands out prominently, and tends to
make the person markedly dissimilar in outline to common-
place humanity.

As is usually the case with ideals which exclude one half
of what is desirable, the present standard of approbation
produces only an inferior imitation of the other half. In-
stead of great energies guided by vigorous reason, and
strong feelings strongly controlled by a conscientious will,
its result is weak feelings and weak energies, which there-
fore can be kept in outward conformity to rule without any
strength either of will or of reason. Already energetic
characters on any large scale are becoming merely tradi-
tional. There is now scarcely any outlet for energy in this
country except business. The energy expended in that
may still be regarded as considerable. What little is left
from that employment, is expended on some hobby; which
may be a useful, even a philanthropic hobby, but is always
some one thing, and generally a thing of small dimensions.
The greatness of England is now all collective: individually
small, we only appear capable of anything great by our habit
of combining; and with this our moral and religious philan-
thropists are perfectly contented. But it was men of another
stamp than this that made England what it has been; and
men of another stamp will be needed to prevent its decline.

The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hin-
drance to human advancement, being in unceasing antago-
nism to that disposition to aim at something better than cus-
tomary, which is called, according to circumstances, the spirit
of liberty, or that of progress or improvement. The spirit
of improvement is not always a spirit of liberty, for it may
aim at forcing improvements on an unwilling people; and
the spirit of liberty, in so far as it resists such attempts, may
ally itself locally and temporarily with the opponents of im-
provement; but the only unfailing and permanent source of
improvement is liberty, since by it there are as many possi-
ble independent centres of improvement as there are indi-
viduals. The progressive principle, however, in either shape,
whether as the love of liberty or of improvement, is antago-
nistic to the sway of Custom, involving at least emancipation
from that yoke; and the contest between the two constitutes
the chief interest of the history of mankind. The greater
part of the world has, properly speaking, no history, because
the despotism of Custom is complete. This is the case over
the whole East. Custom is there, in all things, the final
appeal; Justice and right mean conformity to custom; the
argument of custom no one, unless some tyrant intoxicated
with power, thinks of resisting. And we see the result.
Those nations must once have had originality; they did not
start out of the ground populous, lettered, and versed in
many of the arts of life; they made themselves all this, and
were then the greatest and most powerful nations in the
world. What are they now? The subjects or dependents of
tribes whose forefathers wandered in the forests when theirs
had magnificent palaces and gorgeous temples, but over
whom custom exercised only a divided rule with liberty and
progress. A people, it appears, may be progressive for a
certain length of time, and then stop: when does it stop?
When it ceases to possess individuality. If a similar change
should befall the nations of Europe, it will not be in exactly
the same shape: the despotism of custom with which these
nations are threatened is not precisely stationariness. It
proscribes singularity, but it does not preclude change, pro-
vided all change together. We have discarded the fixed
costumes of our forefathers; every one must still dress like
other people, but the fashion may change once or twice a
year. We thus take care that when there is change, it shall
be for change's sake, and not from any idea of beauty or
convenience; for the same idea of beauty or convenience
would not strike all the world at the same moment, and be
simultaneously thrown aside by all at another moment. But
we are progressive as well as changeable: we continually
make new inventions in mechanical things, and keep them
until they are again superseded by better; we are eager for
improvement in politics, in education, even in morals, though
in this last our idea of improvement chiefly consists in per-
suading or forcing other people to be as good as ourselves.
It is not progress that we object to; on the contrary, we flat-
ter ourselves that we are the most progressive people who
ever lived. It is individuality that we war against: we
should think we had done wonders if we had made ourselves
all alike; forgetting that the unlikeness of one person to
another is generally the first thing which draws the attention
of either to the imperfection of his own type, and the su-
periority of another, or the possibility, by combining the
advantages of both, of producing something better than
either. We have a warning example in China--a nation
of much talent, and, in some respects, even wisdom, owing
to the rare good fortune of having been provided at an
early period with a particularly good set of customs, the
work, in some measure, of men to whom even the most en-
lightened European must accord, under certain limitations,
the title of sages and philosophers. They are remarkable,
too, in the excellence of their apparatus for impressing, as
far as possible, the best wisdom they possess upon every
mind in the community, and securing that those who have
appropriated most of it shall occupy the posts of honor and
power. Surely the people who did this have discovered the
secret of human progressiveness, and must have kept them-
selves steadily at the head of the movement of the world.
On the contrary, they have become stationary--have re-
mained so for thousands of years; and if they are ever to
be farther improved, it must be by foreigners. They have
succeeded beyond all hope in what English philanthropists
are so industriously working at--in making a people all alike,
all governing their thoughts and conduct by the same
maxims and rules; and these are the fruits. The modern
regime of public opinion is, in an unorganized form, what
the Chinese educational and political systems are in an or-
ganized; and unless individuality shall be able successfully to
assert itself against this yoke, Europe, notwithstanding its
noble antecedents and its professed Christianity, will tend
to become another China.

What is it that has hitherto preserved Europe from this
lot? What has made the European family of nations an
improving, instead of a stationary portion of mankind? Not
any superior excellence in them, which when it exists, exists
as the effect, not as the cause; but their remarkable diversity
of character and culture. Individuals, classes, nations, have
been extremely unlike one another: they have struck out a
great variety of paths, each leading to something valuable;
and although at every period those who travelled in different
paths have been intolerant of one another, and each would
have thought it an excellent thing if all the rest could have
been compelled to travel his road, their attempts to thwart
each other's development have rarely had any permanent
success, and each has in time endured to receive the good
which the others have offered. Europe is, in my judgment,
wholly indebted to this plurality of paths for its progressive
and many-sided development. But it already begins to pos-
sess this benefit in a considerably less degree. It is decidedly
advancing towards the Chinese ideal of making all people
alike. M. de Tocqueville, in his last important work, re-
marks how much more the Frenchmen of the present day
resemble one another, than did those even of the last gen-
eration. The same remark might be made of Englishmen
in a far greater degree. In a passage already quoted from
Wilhelm von Humboldt, he points out two things as neces-
sary conditions of human development, because necessary to
render people unlike one another; namely, freedom, and
variety of situations. The second of these two conditions is
in this country every day diminishing. The circumstances
which surround different classes and individuals, and shape
their characters, are daily becoming more assimilated. For-
merly, different ranks, different neighborhoods, different
trades and professions lived in what might be called different
worlds; at present, to a great degree, in the same. Compara-
tively speaking, they now read the same things, listen to the
same things, see the same things, go to the same places, have
their hopes and fears directed to the same objects, have the
same rights and liberties, and the same means of asserting
them. Great as are the differences of position which re-
main, they are nothing to those which have ceased. And
the assimilation is still proceeding. All the political changes
of the age promote it, since they all tend to raise the low
and to lower the high. Every extension of education pro-
motes it, because education brings people under common
influences, and gives them access to the general stock of
facts and sentiments. Improvements in the means of com-
munication promote it, by bringing the inhabitants of distant
places into personal contact, and keeping up a rapid flow of
changes of residence between one place and another. The
increase of commerce and manufactures promotes it, by
diffusing more widely the advantages of easy circumstances,
and opening all objects of ambition, even the highest, to
general competition, whereby the desire of rising becomes
no longer the character of a particular class, but of all
classes. A more powerful agency than even all these, in
bringing about a general similarity among mankind, is the
complete establishment, in this and other free countries, of
the ascendancy of public opinion in the State. As the various
social eminences which enabled persons entrenched on them
to disregard the opinion of the multitude, gradually became
levelled; as the very idea of resisting the will of the public,
when it is positively known that they have a will, disappears
more and more from the minds of practical politicians; there
ceases to be any social support for non-conformity--any sub-
stantive power in society, which, itself opposed to the
ascendancy of numbers, is interested in taking under its
protection opinions and tendencies at variance with those
of the public.

The combination of all these causes forms so great a mass
of influences hostile to Individuality, that it is not easy to see
how it can stand its ground. It will do so with increasing
difficulty, unless the intelligent part of the public can be
made to feel its value--to see that it is good there should be
differences, even though not for the better, even though,
as it may appear to them, some should be for the worse. If
the claims of Individuality are ever to be asserted, the time
is now, while much is still wanting to complete the enforced
assimilation. It is only in the earlier stages that any stand
can be successfully made against the encroachment. The
demand that all other people shall resemble ourselves, grows
by what it feeds on. If resistance waits till life is reduced
nearly to one uniform type, all deviations from that type
will come to be considered impious, immoral, even monstrous
and contrary to nature. Mankind speedily become unable to
conceive diversity, when they have been for some time un-
accustomed to see it.


[1] The Sphere and Duties of Government, from the German of Baron
Wilhelm von Humboldt, pp. 11-13.

[2] Sterling's Essays.

[3] There is something both contemptible and frightful in the sort of evi-
dence on which, of late years, any person can be judicially declared unfit
for the management of his affairs; and after his death, his disposal of his
property can be set aside, if there is enough of it to pay the expenses of
litigation--which are charged on the property itself. All of the minute details
of his daily life are pried into, and whatever is found which, seen through
the medium of the perceiving and escribing faculties of the lowest of the
low, bears an appearance unlike absolute commonplace, is laid before the
jury as evidence of insanity, and often with success; the jurors being little,
if at all, less vulgar and ignorant than the witnesses; while the judges, with
that extraordinary want of knowledge of human nature and life which con-
tinually astonishes us in English lawyers, often help to mislead them. These
trials speak volumes as to the state of feeling and opinion among the vulgar
with regard to human liberty. So far from setting any value on individu-
ality--so far from respecting the rights of each individual to act, in things
indifferent, as seems good to his own judgment and inclinations, judges and
juries cannot even conceive that a person in a state of sanity can desire such
freedom. In former days, when it was proposed to burn atheists, charitable
people used to suggest putting them in a madhouse instead: it would be
nothing surprising now-a-days were we to see this done, and the doers
applauding themselves, because, instead of persecuting for religion, they had
adopted so humane and Christian a mode of treating these unfortunates, not
without a silent satisfaction at their having thereby obtained their deserts.



WHAT, then, is the rightful limit to the sovereignty
of the individual over himself? Where does the
authority of society begin? How much of human
life should be assigned to individuality, and how much to

Each will receive its proper share, if each has that which
more particularly concerns it. To individuality should be-
long the part of life in which it is chiefly the individual that
is interested; to society, the part which chiefly interests

Though society is not founded on a contract, and though
no good purpose is answered by inventing a contract in
order to deduce social obligations from it, every one who
receives the protection of society owes a return for the ben-
efit, and the fact of living in society renders it indispensable
that each should be bound to observe a certain line of con-
duct towards the rest. This conduct consists, first, in not
injuring the interests of one another; or rather certain
interests, which, either by express legal provision or by tacit
understanding, ought to be considered as rights; and sec-
ondly, in each person's bearing his share (to be fixed on
some equitable principle) of the labors and sacrifices in-
curred for defending the society or its members from injury
and molestation. These conditions society is justified in
enforcing, at all costs to those who endeavor to withhold
fulfilment. Nor is this all that society may do. The acts of
an individual may be hurtful to others, or wanting in due
consideration for their welfare, without going the length of
violating any of their constituted rights. The offender may
then be justly punished by opinion, though not by law. As
soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicially
the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and
the question whether the general welfare will or will not be
promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion.
But there is no room for entertaining any such question
when a person's conduct affects the interests of no persons
besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they like
(all the persons concerned being of full age, and the ordinary
amount of understanding). In all such cases there should be
perfect freedom, legal and social, to do the action and stand
the consequences.

It would be a great misunderstanding of this doctrine, to
suppose that it is one of selfish indifference, which pretends
that human beings have no business with each other's con-
duct in life, and that they should not concern themselves
about the well-doing or well-being of one another, unless
their own interest is involved. Instead of any diminution,
there is need of a great increase of disinterested exertion
to promote the good of others. But disinterested benevo-
lence can find other instruments to persuade people to their
good, than whips and scourges, either of the literal or the
metaphorical sort. I am the last person to undervalue the
self-regarding virtues; they are only second in importance,
if even second, to the social. It is equally the business of
education to cultivate both. But even education works by
conviction and persuasion as well as by compulsion, and it is
by the former only that, when the period of education is
past, the self-regarding virtues should be inculcated. Human
beings owe to each other help to distinguish the better from
the worse, and encouragement to choose the former and
avoid the latter. They should be forever stimulating each
other to increased exercise of their higher faculties, and
increased direction of their feelings and aims towards wise
instead of foolish, elevating instead of degrading, objects
and contemplations. But neither one person, nor any num-
ber of persons, is warranted in saying to another human
creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for
his own benefit what he chooses to do with it. He is the
person most interested in his own well-being, the interest
which any other person, except in cases of strong personal
attachment, can have in it, is trifling, compared with that
which he himself has; the interest which society has in him
individually (except as to his conduct to others) is frac-
tional, and altogether indirect: while, with respect to his own
feelings and circumstances, the most ordinary man or woman
has means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that
can be possessed by any one else. The interference of
society to overrule his judgment and purposes in what only
regards himself, must be grounded on general presumptions;
which may be altogether wrong, and even if right, are as
likely as not to be misapplied to individual cases, by per-
sons no better acquainted with the circumstances of such
cases than those are who look at them merely from with-
out. In this department, therefore, of human affairs, Indi-
viduality has its proper field of action. In the conduct of
human beings towards one another, it is necessary that gen-
eral rules should for the most part be observed, in order that
people may know what they have to expect; but in each per-
son's own concerns, his individual spontaneity is entitled to
free exercise. Considerations to aid his judgment, exhorta-
tions to strengthen his will, may be offered to him, even
obtruded on him, by others; but he, himself, is the final
judge. All errors which he is likely to commit against advice
and warning, are far outweighed by the evil of allowing
others to constrain him to what they deem his good.

I do not mean that the feelings with which a person is
regarded by others, ought not to be in any way affected by
his self-regarding qualities or deficiencies. This is neither
possible nor desirable. If he is eminent in any of the quali-
ties which conduce to his own good, he is, so far, a proper
object of admiration. He is so much the nearer to the ideal
perfection of human nature. If he is grossly deficient in
those qualities, a sentiment the opposite of admiration will
follow. There is a degree of folly, and a degree of what
may be called (though the phrase is not unobjectionable) low-
ness or depravation of taste, which, though it cannot justify
doing harm to the person who manifests it, renders him
necessarily and properly a subject of distaste, or, in ex-
treme cases, even of contempt: a person could not have the
opposite qualities in due strength without entertaining these
feelings. Though doing no wrong to any one, a person may
so act as to compel us to judge him, and feel to him, as a
fool, or as a being of an inferior order: and since this judg-
ment and feeling are a fact which he would prefer to avoid,
it is doing him a service to warn him of it beforehand, as of
any other disagreeable consequence to which he exposes
himself. It would be well, indeed, if this good office were
much more freely rendered than the common notions of
politeness at present permit, and if one person could honestly
point out to another that he thinks him in fault, without
being considered unmannerly or presuming. We have a
right, also, in various ways, to act upon our unfavorable
opinion of any one, not to the oppression of his individuality,
but in the exercise of ours. We are not bound, for example,
to seek his society; we have a right to avoid it (though not
to parade the avoidance), for we have a right to choose the
society most acceptable to us. We have a right, and it may
be our duty, to caution others against him, if we think his
example or conversation likely to have a pernicious effect
on those with whom he associates. We may give others a
preference over him in optional good offices, except those
which tend to his improvement. In these various modes a
person may suffer very severe penalties at the hands of
others, for faults which directly concern only himself; but
he suffers these penalties only in so far as they are the
natural, and, as it were, the spontaneous consequences of the
faults themselves, not because they are purposely inflicted
on him for the sake of punishment. A person who shows
rashness, obstinacy, self-conceit--who cannot live within
moderate means--who cannot restrain himself from hurtful
indulgences--who pursues animal pleasures at the expense
of those of feeling and intellect--must expect to be lowered
in the opinion of others, and to have a less share of their
favorable sentiments, but of this he has no right to com-
plain, unless he has merited their favor by special excellence
in his social relations, and has thus established a title to
their good offices, which is not affected by his demerits
towards himself.

What I contend for is, that the inconveniences which are
strictly inseparable from the unfavorable judgment of others,
are the only ones to which a person should ever be sub-
jected for that portion of his conduct and character which
concerns his own good, but which does not affect the inter-
ests of others in their relations with him. Acts injurious to
others require a totally different treatment. Encroachment
on their rights; infliction on them of any loss or damage
not justified by his own rights; falsehood or duplicity in deal-
ing with them; unfair or ungenerous use of advantages over
them; even selfish abstinence from defending them against
injury--these are fit objects of moral reprobation, and, in
grave cases, of moral retribution and punishment. And not
only these acts, but the dispositions which lead to them, are
properly immoral, and fit subjects of disapprobation which
may rise to abhorrence. Cruelty of disposition; malice and
ill-nature; that most anti-social and odious of all passions,
envy; dissimulation and insincerity, irascibility on insuffi-
cient cause, and resentment disproportioned to the provoca-
tion; the love of domineering over others; the desire to
engross more than one's share of advantages (the [greekword]
of the Greeks); the pride which derives gratification from
the abasement of others; the egotism which thinks self and
its concerns more important than everything else, and de-
cides all doubtful questions in his own favor;--these are
moral vices, and constitute a bad and odious moral charac-
ter: unlike the self-regarding faults previously mentioned,
which are not properly immoralities, and to whatever pitch
they may be carried, do not constitute wickedness. They
may be proofs of any amount of folly, or want of personal
dignity and self-respect; but they are only a subject of
moral reprobation when they involve a breach of duty to
others, for whose sake the individual is bound to have care
for himself. What are called duties to ourselves are not
socially obligatory, unless circumstances render them at the
same time duties to others. The term duty to oneself, when it
means anything more than prudence, means self-respect or
self-development; and for none of these is any one account-
able to his fellow-creatures, because for none of them is it for
the good of mankind that he be held accountable to them.

The distinction between the loss of consideration which a
person may rightly incur by defect of prudence or of per-
sonal dignity, and the reprobation which is due to him for
an offence against the rights of others, is not a merely nomi-
nal distinction. It makes a vast difference both in our feel-
ings and in our conduct towards him, whether he displeases
us in things in which we think we have a right to control
him, or in things in which we know that we have not. If he
displeases us, we may express our distaste, and we may stand
aloof from a person as well as from a thing that displeases
us; but we shall not therefore feel called on to make his
life uncomfortable. We shall reflect that he already bears,
or will bear, the whole penalty of his error; if he spoils his
life by mismanagement, we shall not, for that reason, desire
to spoil it still further: instead of wishing to punish him, we
shall rather endeavor to alleviate his punishment, by show-
ing him how he may avoid or cure the evils his conduct
tends to bring upon him. He may be to us an object of pity,
perhaps of dislike, but not of anger or resentment; we shall
not treat him like an enemy of society: the worst we shall
think ourselves justified in doing is leaving him to himself,
If we do not interfere benevolently by showing interest or
concern for him. It is far otherwise if he has infringed the
rules necessary for the protection of his fellow-creatures,
individually or collectively. The evil consequences of his
acts do not then fall on himself, but on others; and society,
as the protector of all its members, must retaliate on him;
must inflict pain on him for the express purpose of punish-
ment, and must take care that it be sufficiently severe. In
the one case, he is an offender at our bar, and we are called
on not only to sit in judgment on him, but, in one shape or
another, to execute our own sentence: in the other case, it
is not our part to inflict any suffering on him, except what
may incidentally follow from our using the same liberty in
the regulation of our own affairs, which we allow to him
in his.

The distinction here pointed out between the part of a
person's life which concerns only himself, and that which
concerns others, many persons will refuse to admit. How (it
may be asked) can any part of the conduct of a member of
society be a matter of indifference to the other members?
No person is an entirely isolated being; it is impossible for a
person to do anything seriously or permanently hurtful to
himself, without mischief reaching at least to his near con-
nections, and often far beyond them. If he injures his
property, he does harm to those who directly or indirectly
derived support from it, and usually diminishes, by a greater
or less amount, the general resources of the community. If
he deteriorates his bodily or mental faculties, he not only
brings evil upon all who depended on him for any portion
of their happiness, but disqualifies himself for rendering
the services which he owes to his fellow-creatures generally;
perhaps becomes a burden on their affection or benevolence;
and if such conduct were very frequent, hardly any offence
that is committed would detract more from the general sum
of good. Finally, if by his vices or follies a person does no
direct harm to others, he is nevertheless (it may be said)
injurious by his example; and ought to be compelled to con-
trol himself, for the sake of those whom the sight or knowl-
edge of his conduct might corrupt or mislead.

And even (it will be added) if the consequences of mis-
conduct could be confined to the vicious or thoughtless indi-
vidual, ought society to abandon to their own guidance those
who are manifestly unfit for it? If protection against them-
selves is confessedly due to children and persons under age,
is not society equally bound to afford it to persons of ma-
ture years who are equally incapable of self-government?
If gambling, or drunkenness, or incontinence, or idleness, or
uncleanliness, are as injurious to happiness, and as great a
hindrance to improvement, as many or most of the acts pro-
hibited by law, why (it may be asked) should not law, so far
as is consistent with practicability and social convenience, en-
deavor to repress these also? And as a supplement to the
unavoidable imperfections of law, ought not opinion at least
to organize a powerful police against these vices, and visit
rigidly with social penalties those who are known to prac-
tise them? There is no question here (it may be said) about
restricting individuality, or impeding the trial of new and
original experiments in living. The only things it is sought
to prevent are things which have been tried and condemned
from the beginning of the world until now; things which
experience has shown not to be useful or suitable to any
person's individuality. There must be some length of time
and amount of experience, after which a moral or prudential
truth may be regarded as established, and it is merely de-
sired to prevent generation after generation from falling
over the same precipice which has been fatal to their prede-

I fully admit that the mischief which a person does to
himself, may seriously affect, both through their sympathies
and their interests, those nearly connected with him, and in
a minor degree, society at large. When, by conduct of this
sort, a person is led to violate a distinct and assignable obli-
gation to any other person or persons, the case is taken out
of the self-regarding class, and becomes amenable to moral
disapprobation in the proper sense of the term. If, for
example, a man, through intemperance or extravagance, be-
comes unable to pay his debts, or, having undertaken the
moral responsibility of a family, becomes from the same
cause incapable of supporting or educating them, he is de-
servedly reprobated, and might be justly punished; but it is
for the breach of duty to his family or creditors, not for the
extravagence. If the resources which ought to have been
devoted to them, had been diverted from them for the
most prudent investment, the moral culpability would have
been the same. George Barnwell murdered his uncle to get
money for his mistress, but if he had done it to set him-
self up in business, he would equally have been hanged.
Again, in the frequent case of a man who causes grief to
his family by addiction to bad habits, he deserves reproach
for his unkindness or ingratitude; but so he may for culti-
vating habits not in themselves vicious, if they are painful
to those with whom he passes his life, or who from personal
ties are dependent on him for their comfort. Whoever fails
in the consideration generally due to the interests and feel-
ings of others, not being compelled by some more imperative
duty, or justified by allowable self-preference, is a subject
of moral disapprobation for that failure, but not for the
cause of it, nor for the errors, merely personal to himself,
which may have remotely led to it. In like manner, when
a person disables himself, by conduct purely self-regarding,
from the performance of some definite duty incumbent on
him to the public, he is guilty of a social offence. No per-
son ought to be punished simply for being drunk; but a sol-
dier or a policeman should be punished for being drunk on
duty. Whenever, in short, there is a definite damage, or a
definite risk of damage, either to an individual or to the
public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and
placed in that of morality or law.

But with regard to the merely contingent or, as it may be
called, constructive injury which a person causes to society,
by conduct which neither violates any specific duty to the
public, nor occasions perceptible hurt to any assignable indi-
vidual except himself; the inconvenience is one which so-
ciety can afford to bear, for the sake of the greater good
of human freedom. If grown persons are to be punished
for not taking proper care of themselves, I would rather
it were for their own sake, than under pretence of preventing
them from impairing their capacity of rendering to society
benefits which society does not pretend it has a right to
exact. But I cannot consent to argue the point as if society
had no means of bringing its weaker members up to its ordi-
nary standard of rational conduct, except waiting till they
do something irrational, and then punishing them, legally
or morally, for it. Society has had absolute power over them
during all the early portion of their existence: it has had
the whole period of childhood and nonage in which to try
whether it could make them capable of rational conduct in
life. The existing generation is master both of the training
and the entire circumstances of the generation to come; it
cannot indeed make them perfectly wise and good, because
it is itself so lamentably deficient in goodness and wisdom;
and its best efforts are not always, in individual cases, its
most successful ones; but it is perfectly well able to make
the rising generation, as a whole, as good as, and a little
better than, itself. If society lets any considerable number
of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being
acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, so-
ciety has itself to blame for the consequences. Armed
not only with all the powers of education, but with the as-
cendency which the authority of a received opinion always
exercises over the minds who are least fitted to judge for
themselves; and aided by the natural penalties which can-
not be prevented from falling on those who incur the dis-
taste or the contempt of those who know them; let not
society pretend that it needs, besides all this, the power to
issue commands and enforce obedience in the personal con-
cerns of individuals, in which, on all principles of justice
and policy, the decision ought to rest with those who are
to abide the consequences. Nor is there anything which
tends more to discredit and frustrate the better means of
influencing conduct, than a resort to the worse. If there be
among those whom it is attempted to coerce into prudence
or temperance, any of the material of which vigorous and
independent characters are made, they will infallibly rebel
against the yoke. No such person will ever feel that others
have a right to control him in his concerns, such as they have
to prevent him from injuring them in theirs; and it easily
comes to be considered a mark of spirit and courage to fly in
the face of such usurped authority, and do with ostentation
the exact opposite of what it enjoins; as in the fashion of
grossness which succeeded, in the time of Charles II., to the
fanatical moral intolerance of the Puritans. With respect to
what is said of the necessity of protecting society from the
bad example set to others by the vicious or the self-indulgent;
it is true that bad example may have a pernicious effect,
especially the example of doing wrong to others with im-
punity to the wrong-doer. But we are now speaking of
conduct which, while it does no wrong to others, is supposed
to do great harm to the agent himself: and I do not see how
those who believe this, can think otherwise than that the
example, on the whole, must be more salutary than hurtful,
since, if it displays the misconduct, it displays also the pain-
ful or degrading consequences which, if the conduct is justly
censured, must be supposed to be in all or most cases at-
tendant on it.

But the strongest of all the arguments against the inter-
ference of the public with purely personal conduct, is that
when it does interfere, the odds are that it interferes
wrongly, and in the wrong place. On questions of social
morality, of duty to others, the opinion of the public, that
is, of an overruling majority, though often wrong, is likely
to be still oftener right; because on such questions they
are only required to judge of their own interests; of the
manner in which some mode of conduct, if allowed to be
practised, would affect themselves. But the opinion of a
similar majority, imposed as a law on the minority, on ques-
tions of self-regarding conduct, is quite as likely to be
wrong as right; for in these cases public opinion means, at
the best, some people's opinion of what is good or bad for
other people; while very often it does not even mean that;
the public, with the most perfect indifference, passing over
the pleasure or convenience of those whose conduct they
censure, and considering only their own preference. There
are many who consider as an injury to themselves any con-
duct which they have a distaste for, and resent it as an
outrage to their feelings; as a religious bigot, when charged
with disregarding the religious feelings of others, has been
known to retort that they disregard his feelings, by per-
sisting in their abominable worship or creed. But there
is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own
opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his
holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take
a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it. And
a person's taste is as much his own peculiar concern as his
opinion or his purse. It is easy for any one to imagine an
ideal public, which leaves the freedom and choice of indi-
viduals in all uncertain matters undisturbed, and only re-
quires them to abstain from modes of conduct which uni-
versal experience has condemned. But where has there been
seen a public which set any such limit to its censorship?
or when does the public trouble itself about universal ex-
perience. In its interferences with personal conduct it is
seldom thinking of anything but the enormity of acting or
feeling differently from itself; and this standard of judg-
ment, thinly disguised, is held up to mankind as the dictate
of religion and philosophy, by nine tenths of all moralists
and speculative writers. These teach that things are right
because they are right; because we feel them to be so.
They tell us to search in our own minds and hearts for
laws of conduct binding on ourselves and on all others.
What can the poor public do but apply these instructions,
and make their own personal feelings of good and evil, if
they are tolerably unanimous in them, obligatory on all the

The evil here pointed out is not one which exists only in
theory; and it may perhaps be expected that I should specify
the instances in which the public of this age and country
improperly invests its own preferences with the character
of moral laws. I am not writing an essay on the aberra-
tions of existing moral feeling. That is too weighty a sub-
ject to be discussed parenthetically, and by way of illustra-
tion. Yet examples are necessary, to show that the principle
I maintain is of serious and practical moment, and that I am
not endeavoring to erect a barrier against imaginary evils.
And it is not difficult to show, by abundant instances, that
to extend the bounds of what may be called moral police,
until it encroaches on the most unquestionably legitimate
liberty of the individual, is one of the most universal of all
human propensities.

As a first instance, consider the antipathies which men
cherish on no better grounds than that persons whose re-
ligious opinions are different from theirs, do not practise
their religious observances, especially their religious ab-
stinences. To cite a rather trivial example, nothing in the
creed or practice of Christians does more to envenom the
hatred of Mahomedans against them, than the fact of their
eating pork. There are few acts which Christians and
Europeans regard with more unaffected disgust, than Mus-
sulmans regard this particular mode of satisfying hunger.
It is, in the first place, an offence against their religion;
but this circumstance by no means explains either the de-
gree or the kind of their repugnance; for wine also is for-
bidden by their religion, and to partake of it is by all Mus-
sulmans accounted wrong, but not disgusting. Their aversion
to the flesh of the "unclean beast" is, on the contrary, of
that peculiar character, resembling an instinctive antipathy,
which the idea of uncleanness, when once it thoroughly
sinks into the feelings, seems always to excite even in those
whose personal habits are anything but scrupulously cleanly
and of which the sentiment of religious impurity, so intense
in the Hindoos, is a remarkable example. Suppose now
that in a people, of whom the majority were Mussulmans,
that majority should insist upon not permitting pork to be
eaten within the limits of the country. This would be noth-
ing new in Mahomedan countries.[1] Would it be a legitimate
exercise of the moral authority of public opinion? and if
not, why not? The practice is really revolting to such a
public. They also sincerely think that it is forbidden and
abhorred by the Deity. Neither could the prohibition be
censured as religious persecution. It might be religious in
its origin, but it would not be persecution for religion, since
nobody's religion makes it a duty to eat pork. The only
tenable ground of condemnation would be, that with the
personal tastes and self-regarding concerns of individuals
the public has no business to interfere.

To come somewhat nearer home: the majority of Span-
iards consider it a gross impiety, offensive in the highest
degree to the Supreme Being, to worship him in any other
manner than the Roman Catholic; and no other public
worship is lawful on Spanish soil. The people of all South-
ern Europe look upon a married clergy as not only irre-
ligious, but unchaste, indecent, gross, disgusting. What do
Protestants think of these perfectly sincere feelings, and of
the attempt to enforce them against non-Catholics? Yet,
if mankind are justified in interfering with each other's
liberty in things which do not concern the interests of
others, on what principle is it possible consistently to ex-
clude these cases? or who can blame people for desiring
to suppress what they regard as a scandal in the sight of
God and man?

No stronger case can be shown for prohibiting anything
which is regarded as a personal immorality, than is made
out for suppressing these practices in the eyes of those who
regard them as impieties; and unless we are willing to adopt
the logic of persecutors, and to say that we may persecute
others because we are right, and that they must not persecute
us because they are wrong, we must beware of admitting
a principle of which we should resent as a gross injustice the
application to ourselves.

The preceding instances may be objected to, although un-
reasonably, as drawn from contingencies impossible among
us: opinion, in this country, not being likely to enforce ab-
stinence from meats, or to interfere with people for wor-
shipping, and for either marrying or not marrying, accord-
ing to their creed or inclination. The next example, however,
shall be taken from an interference with liberty which we
have by no means passed all danger of. Wherever the Puri-
tans have been sufficiently powerful, as in New England, and
in Great Britain at the time of the Commonwealth, they have
endeavored, with considerable success, to put down all public,
and nearly all private, amusements: especially music, danc-
ing, public games, or other assemblages for purposes of
diversion, and the theatre. There are still in this country
large bodies of persons by whose notions of morality and
religion these recreations are condemned; and those persons
belonging chiefly to the middle class, who are the ascendant
power in the present social and political condition of the
kingdom, it is by no means impossible that persons of these
sentiments may at some time or other command a majority
in Parliament. How will the remaining portion of the com-
munity like to have the amusements that shall be permitted
to them regulated by the religious and moral sentiments
of the stricter Calvinists and Methodists? Would they not,
with considerable peremptoriness, desire these intrusively
pious members of society to mind their own business? This
is precisely what should be said to every government and
every public, who have the pretension that no person shall
enjoy any pleasure which they think wrong. But if the prin-
ciple of the pretension be admitted, no one can reasonably
object to its being acted on in the sense of the majority, or
other preponderating power in the country; and all persons
must be ready to conform to the idea of a Christian com-
monwealth, as understood by the early settlers in New Eng-
land, if a religious profession similar to theirs should ever
succeed in regaining its lost ground, as religions supposed
to be declining have so often been known to do.

To imagine another contingency, perhaps more likely to
be realized than the one last mentioned. There is confessedly
a strong tendency in the modern world towards a democratic
constitution of society, accompanied or not by popular po-
litical institutions. It is affirmed that in the country where
this tendency is most completely realized--where both so-
ciety and the government are most democratic--the United
States--the feeling of the majority, to whom any appearance
of a more showy or costly style of living than they can hope
to rival is disagreeable, operates as a tolerably effectual
sumptuary law, and that in many parts of the Union it is
really difficult for a person possessing a very large income,
to find any mode of spending it, which will not incur popular
disapprobation. Though such statements as these are doubt-
less much exaggerated as a representation of existing facts,
the state of things they describe is not only a conceivable
and possible, but a probable result of democratic feeling,
combined with the notion that the public has a right to a
veto on the manner in which individuals shall spend their
incomes. We have only further to suppose a considerable
diffusion of Socialist opinions, and it may become infamous
in the eyes of the majority to possess more property than
some very small amount, or any income not earned by
manual labor. Opinions similar in principle to these, already
prevail widely among the artisan class, and weigh oppres-
sively on those who are amenable to the opinion chiefly of
that class, namely, its own members. It is known that the
bad workmen who form the majority of the operatives in
many branches of industry, are decidedly of opinion that
bad workmen ought to receive the same wages as good, and
that no one ought to be allowed, through piecework or other-
wise, to earn by superior skill or industry more than others
can without it. And they employ a moral police, which oc-
casionally becomes a physical one, to deter skilful workmen
from receiving, and employers from giving, a larger remu-
neration for a more useful service. If the public have any
jurisdiction over private concerns, I cannot see that these
people are in fault, or that any individual's particular pub-
lic can be blamed for asserting the same authority over his
individual conduct, which the general public asserts over
people in general.

But, without dwelling upon supposititious cases, there are,
in our own day, gross usurpations upon the liberty of private
life actually practised, and still greater ones threatened with
some expectation of success, and opinions proposed which
assert an unlimited right in the public not only to prohibit
by law everything which it thinks wrong, but in order to get
at what it thinks wrong, to prohibit any number of things
which it admits to be innocent.

Under the name of preventing intemperance the people
of one English colony, and of nearly half the United States,
have been interdicted by law from making any use what-
ever of fermented drinks, except for medical purposes: for
prohibition of their sale is in fact, as it is intended to be,
prohibition of their use. And though the impracticability
of executing the law has caused its repeal in several of the
States which had adopted it, including the one from which
it derives its name, an attempt has notwithstanding been
commenced, and is prosecuted with considerable zeal by
many of the professed philanthropists, to agitate for a simi-
lar law in this country. The association, or "Alliance" as
it terms itself, which has been formed for this purpose, has
acquired some notoriety through the publicity given to a
correspondence between its Secretary and one of the very
few English public men who hold that a politician's opinions
ought to be founded on principles. Lord Stanley's share in
this correspondence is calculated to strengthen the hopes
already built on him, by those who know how rare such
qualities as are manifested in some of his public appear-
ances, unhappily are among those who figure in political life.
The organ of the Alliance, who would "deeply deplore the
recognition of any principle which could be wrested to jus-
tify bigotry and persecution," undertakes to point out the
"broad and impassable barrier" which divides such princi-
ples from those of the association. "All matters relating to
thought, opinion, conscience, appear to me," he says, "to
be without the sphere of legislation; all pertaining to social
act, habit, relation, subject only to a discretionary power
vested in the State itself, and not in the individual, to be
within it." No mention is made of a third class, different
from either of these, viz., acts and habits which are not
social, but individual; although it is to this class, surely,
that the act of drinking fermented liquors belongs. Selling
fermented liquors, however, is trading, and trading is a
social act. But the infringement complained of is not on the
liberty of the seller, but on that of the buyer and consumer;
since the State might just as well forbid him to drink wine,
as purposely make it impossible for him to obtain it. The
Secretary, however, says, "I claim, as a citizen, a right to
legislate whenever my social rights are invaded by the
social act of another." And now for the definition of these
"social rights." "If anything invades my social rights, cer-
tainly the traffic in strong drink does. It destroys my primary
right of security, by constantly creating and stimulating
social disorder. It invades my right of equality, by de-
riving a profit from the creation of a misery, I am taxed to
support. It impedes my right to free moral and intellectual
development, by surrounding my path with dangers, and by
weakening and demoralizing society, from which I have a
right to claim mutual aid and intercourse." A theory of
"social rights," the like of which probably never before
found its way into distinct language--being nothing short of
this--that it is the absolute social right of every individual,
that every other individual shall act in every respect
exactly as he ought; that whosoever fails thereof in the
smallest particular, violates my social right, and entitles me
to demand from the legislature the removal of the grievance.
So monstrous a principle is far more dangerous than any
single interference with liberty; there is no violation of lib-
erty which it would not justify; it acknowledges no right
to any freedom whatever, except perhaps to that of holding
opinions in secret, without ever disclosing them; for the mo-
ment an opinion which I consider noxious, passes any one's
lips, it invades all the "social rights" attributed to me by
the Alliance. The doctrine ascribes to all mankind a vested
interest in each other's moral, intellectual, and even physical
perfection, to be defined by each claimant according to his
own standard.

Another important example of illegitimate interference
with the rightful liberty of the individual, not simply threat-
ened, but long since carried into triumphant effect, is Sab-
batarian legislation. Without doubt, abstinence on one day
in the week, so far as the exigencies of life permit, from the
usual daily occupation, though in no respect religiously bind-
ing on any except Jews, is a highly beneficial custom. And in-
asmuch as this custom cannot be observed without a general
consent to that effect among the industrious classes, there-
fore, in so far as some persons by working may impose the
same necessity on others, it may be allowable and right that
the law should guarantee to each, the observance by others
of the custom, by suspending the greater operations of in-
dustry on a particular day. But this justification, grounded
on the direct interest which others have in each individual's
observance of the practice, does not apply to the self-chosen
occupations in which a person may think fit to employ his
leisure; nor does it hold good, in the smallest degree, for
legal restrictions on amusements. It is true that the amuse-
ment of some is the day's work of others; but the pleasure,
not to say the useful recreation, of many, is worth the labor
of a few, provided the occupation is freely chosen, and can
be freely resigned. The operatives are perfectly right in
thinking that if all worked on Sunday, seven days' work
would have to be given for six days' wages: but so long as
the great mass of employments are suspended, the small
number who for the enjoyment of others must still work,
obtain a proportional increase of earnings; and they are
not obliged to follow those occupations, if they prefer lei-
sure to emolument. If a further remedy is sought, it might
be found in the establishment by custom of a holiday on
some other day of the week for those particular classes of
persons. The only ground, therefore, on which restrictions
on Sunday amusements can be defended, must be that they
are religiously wrong; a motive of legislation which never
can be too earnestly protested against. "Deorum injuriae
Diis curae." It remains to be proved that society or any of
its officers holds a commission from on high to avenge any
supposed offence to Omnipotence, which is not also a wrong
to our fellow-creatures. The notion that it is one man's
duty that another should be religious, was the foundation of
all the religious persecutions ever perpetrated, and if ad-
mitted, would fully justify them. Though the feeling which
breaks out in the repeated attempts to stop railway travelling
on Sunday, in the resistance to the opening of Museums, and
the like, has not the cruelty of the old persecutors, the state
of mind indicated by it is fundamentally the same. It IS a
determination not to tolerate others in doing what is per-
mitted by their religion, because it is not permitted by the
persecutor's religion. It is a belief that God not only abomi-
nates the act of the misbeliever, but will not hold us guiltless
if we leave him unmolested.

I cannot refrain from adding to these examples of the
little account commonly made of human liberty, the language
of downright persecution which breaks out from the press
of this country, whenever it feels called on to notice the
remarkable phenomenon of Mormonism. Much might be
said on the unexpected and instructive fact, that an alleged
new revelation, and a religion, founded on it, the product
of palpable imposture, not even supported by the prestige of
extraordinary qualities in its founder, is believed by hun-
dreds of thousands, and has been made the foundation of
a society, in the age of newspapers, railways, and the elec-
tric telegraph. What here concerns us is, that this religion,
like other and better religions, has its martyrs; that its
prophet and founder was, for his teaching, put to death by
a mob; that others of its adherents lost their lives by the
same lawless violence; that they were forcibly expelled, in
a body, from the country in which they first grew up; while,
now that they have been chased into a solitary recess in the
midst of a desert, many in this country openly declare that
it would be right (only that it is not convenient) to send an
expedition against them, and compel them by force to con-
form to the opinions of other people. The article of the
Mormonite doctrine which is the chief provocative to the
antipathy which thus breaks through the ordinary restraints
of religious tolerance, is its sanction of polygamy; which,
though permitted to Mahomedans, and Hindoos, and
Chinese, seems to excite unquenchable animosity when prac-
tised by persons who speak English, and profess to be a kind
of Christians. No one has a deeper disapprobation than I
have of this Mormon institution; both for other reasons, and
because, far from being in any way countenanced by the
principle of liberty, it is a direct infraction of that principle,
being a mere riveting of the chains of one half of the com-
munity, and an emancipation of the other from reciprocity
of obligation towards them. Still, it must be remembered
that this relation is as much voluntary on the part of the
women concerned in it, and who may be deemed the suffer-
ers by it, as is the case with any other form of the marriage
institution; and however surprising this fact may appear, it
has its explanation in the common ideas and customs of the
world, which teaching women to think marriage the one
thing needful, make it intelligible that many a woman should
prefer being one of several wives, to not being a wife at all.
Other countries are not asked to recognize such unions, or
release any portion of their inhabitants from their own laws
on the score of Mormonite opinions. But when the dissen-
tients have conceded to the hostile sentiments of others, far
more than could justly be demanded; when they have left
the countries to which their doctrines were unacceptable,
and established themselves in a remote corner of the earth,
which they have been the first to render habitable to human
beings; it is difficult to see on what principles but those of
tyranny they can be prevented from living there under what
laws they please, provided they commit no aggression on
other nations, and allow perfect freedom of departure to
those who are dissatisfied with their ways. A recent writer,
in some respects of considerable merit, proposes (to use his
own words,) not a crusade, but a civilizade, against this
polygamous community, to put an end to what seems to him
a retrograde step in civilization. It also appears so to me,
but I am not aware that any community has a right to force
another to be civilized. So long as the sufferers by the bad
law do not invoke assistance from other communities, I can-
not admit that persons entirely unconnected with them ought
to step in and require that a condition of things with which
all who are directly interested appear to be satisfied, should
be put an end to because it is a scandal to persons some
thousands of miles distant, who have no part or concern in
it. Let them send missionaries, if they please, to preach
against it; and let them, by any fair means, (of which silenc-
ing the teachers is not one,) oppose the progress of similar
doctrines among their own people. If civilization has got
the better of barbarism when barbarism had the world to
itself, it is too much to profess to be afraid lest barbarism,
after having been fairly got under, should revive and con-
quer civilization. A civilization that can thus succumb to
its vanquished enemy must first have become so degenerate,
that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody
else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up
for it. If this be so, the sooner such a civilization receives
notice to quit, the better. It can only go on from bad to
worse, until destroyed and regenerated (like the Western
Empire) by energetic barbarians.

[1] The case of the Bombay Parsees is a curious instance in point. When
this industrious and enterprising tribe, the descendants of the Persian fire-
worshippers, flying from their native country before the Caliphs, arrived in
Western India, they were admitted to toleration by the Hindoo sovereigns,
on condition of not eating beef. When those regions afterwards fell under
the dominion of Mahomedan conquerors, the Parsees obtained from them a
continuance of indulgence, on condition of refraining from pork. What was
at first obedience to authority became a second nature, and the Parsees to
this day abstain both from beef and pork. Though not required by their
religion, the double abstinence has had time to grow into a custom of their
tribe; and custom, in the East, is a religion.



THE principles asserted in these pages must be more
generally admitted as the basis for discussion of de-
tails, before a consistent application of them to all
the various departments of government and morals can be
attempted with any prospect of advantage. The few ob-
servations I propose to make on questions of detail, are
designed to illustrate the principles, rather than to follow
them out to their consequences. I offer, not so much appli-
cations, as specimens of application; which may serve to
bring into greater clearness the meaning and limits of the
two maxims which together form the entire doctrine of this
Essay and to assist the judgment in holding the balance be-
tween them, in the cases where it appears doubtful which of
them is applicable to the case.

The maxims are, first, that the individual is not account-
able to society for his actions, in so far as these concern
the interests of no person but himself. Advice, instruction,
persuasion, and avoidance by other people, if thought neces-
sary by them for their own good, are the only measures by
which society can justifiably express its dislike or disappro-
bation of his conduct. Secondly, that for such actions as
are prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is ac-
countable, and may be subjected either to social or to legal
punishments, if society is of opinion that the one or the
other is requisite for its protection.

In the first place, it must by no means be supposed, be-
cause damage, or probability of damage, to the interests of
others, can alone justify the interference of society, that
therefore it always does justify such interference. In many
cases, an individual, in pursuing a legitimate object, neces-
sarily and therefore legitimately causes pain or loss to
others, or intercepts a good which they had a reasonable
hope of obtaining. Such oppositions of interest between
individuals often arise from bad social institutions, but are
unavoidable while those institutions last; and some would be
unavoidable under any institutions. Whoever succeeds in
an overcrowded profession, or in a competitive examination;
whoever is preferred to another in any contest for an object
which both desire, reaps benefit from the loss of others,
from their wasted exertion and their disappointment. But
it is, by common admission, better for the general interest
of mankind, that persons should pursue their objects unde-
terred by this sort of consequences. In other words, society
admits no right, either legal or moral, in the disappointed
competitors, to immunity from this kind of suffering; and
feels called on to interfere, only when means of success have
been employed which it is contrary to the general interest
to permit--namely, fraud or treachery, and force.

Again, trade is a social act. Whoever undertakes to sell
any description of goods to the public, does what affects the
interest of other persons, and of society in general; and thus
his conduct, in principle, comes within the jurisdiction of
society: accordingly, it was once held to be the duty of gov-
ernments, in all cases which were considered of importance,
to fix prices, and regulate the processes of manufacture.
But it is now recognized, though not till after a long
struggle, that both the cheapness and the good quality of
commodities are most effectually provided for by leaving the
producers and sellers perfectly free, under the sole check
of equal freedom to the buyers for supplying themselves else-
where. This is the so-called doctrine of Free Trade, which
rests on grounds different from, though equally solid with,
the principle of individual liberty asserted in this Essay.
Restrictions on trade, or on production for purposes of
trade, are indeed restraints; and all restraint, qua restraint,
is an evil: but the restraints in question affect only that part
of conduct which society is competent to restrain, and are
wrong solely because they do not really produce the results
which it is desired to produce by them. As the principle of
individual liberty is not involved in the doctrine of Free
Trade so neither is it in most of the questions which arise
respecting the limits of that doctrine: as for example, what
amount of public control is admissible for the prevention of
fraud by adulteration; how far sanitary precautions, or ar-
rangements to protect work-people employed in dangerous
occupations, should be enforced on employers. Such ques-
tions involve considerations of liberty, only in so far as
leaving people to themselves is always better, caeteris pari-
bus, than controlling them: but that they may be legitimately
controlled for these ends, is in principle undeniable. On the
other hand, there are questions relating to interference with
trade which are essentially questions of liberty; such as the
Maine Law, already touched upon; the prohibition of the
importation of opium into China; the restriction of the sale
of poisons; all cases, in short, where the object of the inter-
ference is to make it impossible or difficult to obtain a par-
ticular commodity. These interferences are objectionable,
not as infringements on the liberty of the producer or seller,
but on that of the buyer.

One of these examples, that of the sale of poisons, opens
a new question; the proper limits of what may be called the
functions of police; how far liberty may legitimately be in-
vaded for the prevention of crime, or of accident. It is one
of the undisputed functions of government to take precau-
tions against crime before it has been committed, as well as
to detect and punish it afterwards. The preventive function
of government, however, is far more liable to be abused, to
the prejudice of liberty, than the punitory function; for
there is hardly any part of the legitimate freedom of action
of a human being which would not admit of being repre-
sented, and fairly too, as increasing the facilities for some
form or other of delinquency. Nevertheless, if a public au-
thority, or even a private person, sees any one evidently pre-
paring to commit a crime, they are not bound to look on
inactive until the crime is committed, but may interfere to
prevent it. If poisons were never bought or used for any
purpose except the commission of murder, it would be right
to prohibit their manufacture and sale. They may, how-
ever, be wanted not only for innocent but for useful pur-
poses, and restrictions cannot be imposed in the one case
without operating in the other. Again, it is a proper office
of public authority to guard against accidents. If either a
public officer or any one else saw a person attempting to
cross a bridge which had been ascertained to be unsafe, and
there were no time to warn him of his danger, they might
seize him and turn him back without any real infringement
of his liberty; for liberty consists in doing what one desires,
and he does not desire to fall into the river. Nevertheless,
when there is not a certainty, but only a danger of mischief,
no one but the person himself can judge of the sufficiency
of the motive which may prompt him to incur the risk: in this
case, therefore, (unless he is a child, or delirious, or in some
state of excitement or absorption incompatible with the full
use of the reflecting faculty,) he ought, I conceive, to be
only warned of the danger; not forcibly prevented from ex-
posing himself to it. Similar considerations, applied to such
a question as the sale of poisons, may enable us to decide
which among the possible modes of regulation are or are
not contrary to principle. Such a precaution, for example,
as that of labelling the drug with some word expressive
of its dangerous character, may be enforced without viola-
tion of liberty: the buyer cannot wish not to know that the
thing he possesses has poisonous qualities. But to require
in all cases the certificate of a medical practitioner, would
make it sometimes impossible, always expensive, to obtain
the article for legitimate uses. The only mode apparent
to me, in which difficulties may be thrown in the way of
crime committed through this means, without any infringe-
ment, worth taking into account, Upon the liberty of those
who desire the poisonous substance for other purposes, con-
sists in providing what, in the apt language of Bentham,
is called "preappointed evidence." This provision is fa-
miliar to every one in the case of contracts. It is usual
and right that the law, when a contract is entered into,
should require as the condition of its enforcing performance,
that certain formalities should be observed, such as signa-
tures, attestation of witnesses, and the like, in order that in
case of subsequent dispute, there may be evidence to prove
that the contract was really entered into, and that there
was nothing in the circumstances to render it legally invalid:
the effect being, to throw great obstacles in the way of fic-
titious contracts, or contracts made in circumstances which,
if known, would destroy their validity. Precautions of a
similar nature might be enforced in the sale of articles
adapted to be instruments of crime. The seller, for ex-
ample, might be required to enter in a register the exact
time of the transaction, the name and address of the buyer,
the precise quality and quantity sold; to ask the purpose for
which it was wanted, and record the answer he received.
When there was no medical prescription, the presence of
some third person might be required, to bring home the fact
to the purchaser, in case there should afterwards be reason
to believe that the article had been applied to criminal pur-
poses. Such regulations would in general be no material
impediment to obtaining the article, but a very considerable
one to making an improper use of it without detection.

The right inherent in society, to ward off crimes against
itself by antecedent precautions, suggests the obvious limita-
tions to the maxim, that purely self-regarding misconduct
cannot properly be meddled with in the way of prevention
or punishment. Drunkennesses, for example, in ordinary
cases, is not a fit subject for legislative interference; but I
should deem it perfectly legitimate that a person, who had
once been convicted of any act of violence to others under
the influence of drink, should be placed under a special legal
restriction, personal to himself; that if he were afterwards
found drunk, he should be liable to a penalty, and that if
when in that state he committed another offence, the punish-
ment to which he would be liable for that other offence
should be increased in severity. The making himself drunk,
in a person whom drunkenness excites to do harm to others,
is a crime against others. So, again, idleness, except in a
person receiving support from the public, or except when it
constitutes a breach of contract, cannot without tyranny be
made a subject of legal punishment; but if either from idle-
ness or from any other avoidable cause, a man fails to per-
form his legal duties to others, as for instance to support his
children, it is no tyranny to force him to fulfil that obliga-
tion, by compulsory labor, if no other means are available.

Again, there are many acts which, being directly injurious
only to the agents themselves, ought not to be legally inter-
dicted, but which, if done publicly, are a violation of good
manners, and coming thus within the category of offences
against others, may rightfully be prohibited. Of this kind
are offences against decency; on which it is unnecessary to
dwell, the rather as they are only connected indirectly with
our subject, the objection to publicity being equally strong
in the case of many actions not in themselves condemnable,
nor supposed to be so.

There is another question to which an answer must be
found, consistent with the principles which have been laid
down. In cases of personal conduct supposed to be blame-
able, but which respect for liberty precludes society from
preventing or punishing, because the evil directly resulting
falls wholly on the agent; what the agent is free to do,
ought other persons to be equally free to counsel or insti-
gate? This question is not free from difficulty. The case
of a person who solicits another to do an act, is not strictly
a case of self-regarding conduct. To give advice or offer
inducements to any one, is a social act, and may therefore,
like actions in general which affect others, be supposed
amenable to social control. But a little reflection corrects
the first impression, by showing that if the case is not
strictly within the definition of individual liberty, yet the
reasons on which the principle of individual liberty is
grounded, are applicable to it. If people must be allowed, in
whatever concerns only themselves, to act as seems best to
themselves at their own peril, they must equally be free to
consult with one another about what is fit to be so done;
to exchange opinions, and give and receive suggestions.
Whatever it is permitted to do, it must be permitted to ad-
vise to do. The question is doubtful, only when the insti-
gator derives a personal benefit from his advice; when he
makes it his occupation, for subsistence, or pecuniary gain,
to promote what society and the State consider to be an evil.
Then, indeed, a new element of complication is introduced;
namely, the existence of classes of persons with an interest
opposed to what is considered as the public weal, and whose
mode of living is grounded on the counteraction of it. Ought
this to be interfered with, or not? Fornication, for example,
must be tolerated, and so must gambling; but should a per-
son be free to be a pimp, or to keep a gambling-house? The
case is one of those which lie on the exact boundary line
between two principles, and it is not at once apparent to
which of the two it properly belongs. There are arguments
on both sides. On the side of toleration it may be said, that
the fact of following anything as an occupation, and living
or profiting by the practice of it, cannot make that criminal
which would otherwise be admissible; that the act should
either be consistently permitted or consistently prohibited;
that if the principles which we have hitherto defended are
true, society has no business, as society, to decide anything
to be wrong which concerns only the individual; that it can-
not go beyond dissuasion, and that one person should be as
free to persuade, as another to dissuade. In opposition to
this it may be contended, that although the public, or the
State, are not warranted in authoritatively deciding, for pur-
poses of repression or punishment, that such or such con-
duct affecting only the interests of the individual is good or
bad, they are fully justified in assuming, if they regard it as
bad, that its being so or not is at least a disputable question:
That, this being supposed, they cannot be acting wrongly in
endeavoring to exclude the influence of solicitations which
are not disinterested, of instigators who cannot possibly be
impartial--who have a direct personal interest on one side,
and that side the one which the State believes to be wrong,
and who confessedly promote it for personal objects only.
There can surely, it may be urged, be nothing lost, no sac-
rifice of good, by so ordering matters that persons shall
make their election, either wisely or foolishly, on their own
prompting, as free as possible from the arts of persons who
stimulate their inclinations for interested purposes of their
own. Thus (it may be said) though the statutes respecting
unlawful games are utterly indefensible--though all persons
should be free to gamble in their own or each other's houses,
or in any place of meeting established by their own subscrip-
tions, and open only to the members and their visitors--yet
public gambling-houses should not be permitted. It is true
that the prohibition is never effectual, and that whatever
amount of tyrannical power is given to the police, gambling-
houses can always be maintained under other pretences; but
they may be compelled to conduct their operations with a
certain degree of secrecy and mystery, so that nobody knows
anything about them but those who seek them; and more
than this society ought not to aim at. There is considerable
force in these arguments. I will not venture to decide
whether they are sufficient to justify the moral anomaly of
punishing the accessary, when the principal is (and must be)
allowed to go free; of fining or imprisoning the procurer,
but not the fornicator, the gambling-house keeper, but not
the gambler. Still less ought the common operations of buy-
ing and selling to be interfered with on analogous grounds.
Almost every article which is bought and sold may be used
in excess, and the sellers have a pecuniary interest in en-
couraging that excess; but no argument can be founded on
this, in favor, for instance, of the Maine Law; because the
class of dealers in strong drinks, though interested in their
abuse, are indispensably required for the sake of their legiti-
mate use. The interest, however, of these dealers in promot-
ing intemperance is a real evil, and justifies the State in
imposing restrictions and requiring guarantees, which but
for that justification would be infringements of legitimate

A further question is, whether the State while it permits,
should nevertheless indirectly discourage conduct which it
deems contrary to the best interests of the agent; whether,
for example, it should take measures to render the means of
drunkenness more costly, or add to the difficulty of pro-
curing them, by limiting the number of the places of sale.
On this as on most other practical questions, many distinc-
tions require to be made. To tax stimulants for the sole
purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained, is a
measure differing only in degree from their entire pro-
hibition; and would be justifiable only if that were justifia-
ble. Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose
means do not come up to the augmented price; and to those
who do, it is a penalty laid on them for gratifying a par-
ticular taste. Their choice of pleasures, and their mode of
expending their income, after satisfying their legal and
moral obligations to the State and to individuals, are their
own concern, and must rest with their own judgment. These
considerations may seem at first sight to condemn the selec-
tion of stimulants as special subjects of taxation for pur-
poses of revenue. But it must be remembered that taxation
for fiscal purposes is absolutely inevitable; that in most
countries it is necessary that a considerable part of that
taxation should be indirect; that the State, therefore, cannot
help imposing penalties, which to some persons may be pro-
hibitory, on the use of some articles of consumption. It is
hence the duty of the State to consider, in the imposition of
taxes, what commodities the consumers can best spare; and
a fortiori, to select in preference those of which it deems
the use, beyond a very moderate quantity, to be positively in-
jurious. Taxation, therefore, of stimulants, up to the point
which produces the largest amount of revenue (supposing
that the State needs all the revenue which it yields) is not
only admissible, but to be approved of.

The question of making the sale of these commodities a
more or less exclusive privilege, must be answered differently,
according to the purposes to which the restriction is in-
tended to be subservient. All places of public resort require
the restraint of a police, and places of this kind peculiarly,
because offences against society are especially apt to originate
there. It is, therefore, fit to confine the power of selling
these commodities (at least for consumption on the spot)
to persons of known or vouched-for respectability of con-
duct; to make such regulations respecting hours of opening
and closing as may be requisite for public surveillance, and
to withdraw the license if breaches of the peace repeatedly
take place through the connivance or incapacity of the
keeper of the house, or if it becomes a rendezvous for con-
cocting and preparing offences against the law. Any fur-
ther restriction I do not conceive to be, in principle, justi-
fiable. The limitation in number, for instance, of beer and
spirit-houses, for the express purpose of rendering them
more difficult of access, and diminishing the occasions of
temptation, not only exposes all to an inconvenience because
there are some by whom the facility would be abused, but is
suited only to a state of society in which the laboring classes
are avowedly treated as children or savages, and placed
under an education of restraint, to fit them for future ad-
mission to the privileges of freedom. This is not the prin-
ciple on which the laboring classes are professedly governed
in any free country; and no person who sets due value on free-
dom will give his adhesion to their being so governed, unless
after all efforts have been exhausted to educate them for
freedom and govern them as freemen, and it has been defini-
tively proved that they can only be governed as children.
The bare statement of the alternative shows the absurdity of
supposing that such efforts have been made in any case
which needs be considered here. It is only because the insti-
tutions of this country are a mass of inconsistencies, that
things find admittance into our practice which belong to the
system of despotic, or what is called paternal, government,
while the general freedom of our institutions precludes the
exercise of the amount of control necessary to render the
restraint of any real efficacy as a moral education.

It was pointed out in an early part of this Essay, that the
liberty of the individual, in things wherein the individual is
alone concerned, implies a corresponding liberty in any num-
ber of individuals to regulate by mutual agreement such things
as regard them jointly, and regard no persons but themselves.
This question presents no difficulty, so long as the will of all
the persons implicated remains unaltered; but since that will
may change, it is often necessary, even in things in which they
alone are concerned, that they should enter into engagements
with one another; and when they do, it is fit, as a general
rule, that those engagements should be kept. Yet in the laws
probably, of every country, this general rule has some excep-
tions. Not only persons are not held to engagements which
violate the rights of third parties, but it is sometimes con-
sidered a sufficient reason for releasing them from an en-
gagement, that it is injurious to themselves. In this and most
other civilized countries, for example, an engagement by
which a person should sell himself, or allow himself to be
sold, as a slave, would be null and void; neither enforced by
law nor by opinion. The ground for thus limiting his power
of voluntarily disposing of his own lot in life, is apparent,
and is very clearly seen in this extreme case. The reason for
not interfering, unless for the sake of others, with a person's
voluntary acts, is consideration for his liberty. His volun-
tary choice is evidence that what he so chooses is desirable,
or at the least endurable, to him, and his good is on the whole
best provided for by allowing him to take his own means of
pursuing it. But by selling himself for a slave, he abdicates
his liberty; he foregoes any future use of it, beyond that
single act. He therefore defeats, in his own case, the very
purpose which is the justification of allowing him to dispose
of himself. He is no longer free; but is thenceforth in a
position which has no longer the presumption in its favor,
that would be afforded by his voluntarily remaining in it.
The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be
free not to be free. It is not freedom, to be allowed to
alienate his freedom. These reasons, the force of which is
so conspicuous in this peculiar case, are evidently of far
wider application; yet a limit is everywhere set to them by
the necessities of life, which continually require, not indeed
that we should resign our freedom, but that we should con-
sent to this and the other limitation of it. The principle,
however, which demands uncontrolled freedom of action in
all that concerns only the agents themselves, requires that
those who have become bound to one another, in things
which concern no third party, should be able to release one
another from the engagement: and even without such volun-
tary release, there are perhaps no contracts or engagements,
except those that relate to money or money's worth, of which
one can venture to say that there ought to be no liberty what-
ever of retractation. Baron Wilhelm von Humboldt, in the
excellent Essay from which I have already quoted, states it
as his conviction, that engagements which involve personal
relations or services, should never be legally binding beyond
a limited duration of time; and that the most important of
these engagements, marriage, having the peculiarity that its
objects are frustrated unless the feelings of both the parties
are in harmony with it, should require nothing more than the
declared will of either party to dissolve it. This subject is
too important, and too complicated, to be discussed in a
parenthesis, and I touch on it only so far as is necessary for
purposes of illustration. If the conciseness and generality
of Baron Humboldt's dissertation had not obliged him in this
instance to content himself with enunciating his conclusion
without discussing the premises, he would doubtless have
recognized that the question cannot be decided on grounds
so simple as those to which he confines himself. When a
person, either by express promise or by conduct, has encour-
aged another to rely upon his continuing to act in a certain
way--to build expectations and calculations, and stake any
part of his plan of life upon that supposition, a new series
of moral obligations arises on his part towards that person,
which may possibly be overruled, but can not be ignored.
And again, if the relation between two contracting parties
has been followed by consequences to others; if it has placed
third parties in any peculiar position, or, as in the case of
marriage, has even called third parties into existence, obli-
gations arise on the part of both the contracting parties
towards those third persons, the fulfilment of which, or at
all events, the mode of fulfilment, must be greatly affected
by the continuance or disruption of the relation between the
original parties to the contract. It does not follow, nor can
I admit, that these obligations extend to requiring the fulfil-
ment of the contract at all costs to the happiness of the re-
luctant party; but they are a necessary element in the ques-
tion; and even if, as Von Humboldt maintains, they ought to
make no difference in the legal freedom of the parties to
release themselves from the engagement (and I also hold
that they ought not to make much difference), they neces-
sarily make a great difference in the moral freedom. A per-
son is bound to take all these circumstances into account,
before resolving on a step which may affect such important
interests of others; and if he does not allow proper weight
to those interests, he is morally responsible for the wrong.
I have made these obvious remarks for the better illustration
of the general principle of liberty, and not because they are
at all needed on the particular question, which, on the con-
trary, is usually discussed as if the interest of children was
everything, and that of grown persons nothing.

I have already observed that, owing to the absence of any
recognized general principles, liberty is often granted where
it should be withheld, as well as withheld where it should be
granted; and one of the cases in which, in the modern
European world, the sentiment of liberty is the strongest, is
a case where, in my view, it is altogether misplaced. A
person should be free to do as he likes in his own concerns;
but he ought not to be free to do as he likes in acting for
another under the pretext that the affairs of another are
his own affairs. The State, while it respects the liberty of
each in what specially regards himself, is bound to maintain
a vigilant control over his exercise of any power which it
allows him to possess over others. This obligation is almost
entirely disregarded in the case of the family relations, a case,
in its direct influence on human happiness, more important
than all the others taken together. The almost despotic
power of husbands over wives needs not be enlarged upon
here, because nothing more is needed for the complete re-
moval of the evil, than that wives should have the same
rights, and should receive the protection of law in the same
manner, as all other persons; and because, on this subject,
the defenders of established injustice do not avail them-
selves of the plea of liberty, but stand forth openly as the
champions of power. It is in the case of children, that mis-
applied notions of liberty are a real obstacle to the fulfilment
by the State of its duties. One would almost think that a
man's children were supposed to be literally, and not meta-
phorically, a part of himself, so jealous is opinion of the
smallest interference of law with his absolute and exclusive
control over them; more jealous than of almost any inter-
ference with his own freedom of action: so much less do the
generality of mankind value liberty than power. Consider,
for example, the case of education. Is it not almost a self-
evident axiom, that the State should require and compel the
education, up to a certain standard, of every human being
who is born its citizen? Yet who is there that is not afraid
to recognize and assert this truth? Hardly any one indeed
will deny that it is one of the most sacred duties of the
parents (or, as law and usage now stand, the father), after
summoning a human being into the world, to give to that
being an education fitting him to perform his part well in
life towards others and towards himself. But while this is
unanimously declared to be the father's duty, scarcely any-
body, in this country, will bear to hear of obliging him to
perform it. Instead of his being required to make any ex-
ertion or sacrifice for securing education to the child, it is
left to his choice to accept it or not when it is provided
gratis! It still remains unrecognized, that to bring a child
into existence without a fair prospect of being able, not only
to provide food for its body, but instruction and training
for its mind, is a moral crime, both against the unfortunate
offspring and against society; and that if the parent does
not fulfil this obligation, the State ought to see it fulfilled,
at the charge, as far as possible, of the parent.

Were the duty of enforcing universal education once ad-
mitted, there would be an end to the difficulties about what
the State should teach, and how it should teach, which now
convert the subject into a mere battle-field for sects and
parties, causing the time and labor which should have been
spent in educating, to be wasted in quarrelling about educa-
tion. If the government would make up its mind to require
for every child a good education, it might save itself the
trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain
the education where and how they pleased, and content itself
with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of
children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those
who have no one else to pay for them. The objections which
are urged with reason against State education, do not apply
to the enforcement of education by the State, but to the
State's taking upon itself to direct that education: which
is a totally different thing. That the whole or any large part
of the education of the people should be in State hands, I
go as far as any one in deprecating. All that has been said
of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity
in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same
unspeakable importance, diversity of education. A general
State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to
be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it
casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in
the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood,
an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in
proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a
despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one
over the body. An education established and controlled by
the State, should only exist, if it exist at all, as one among
many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of
example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain
standard of excellence. Unless, indeed, when society in gen-
eral is in so backward a state that it could not or would not
provide for itself any proper institutions of education, unless
the government undertook the task; then, indeed, the gov-
ernment may, as the less of two great evils, take upon itself
the business of schools and universities, as it may that of
joint-stock companies, when private enterprise, in a shape
fitted for undertaking great works of industry does not exist
in the country. But in general, if the country contains a
sufficient number of persons qualified to provide education
under government auspices, the same persons would be able
and willing to give an equally good education on the volun-
tary principle, under the assurance of remuneration afforded
by a law rendering education compulsory, combined with
State aid to those unable to defray the expense.

The instrument for enforcing the law could be no other
than public examinations, extending to all children, and begin-
ning at an early age. An age might be fixed at which every
child must be examined, to ascertain if he (or she) is able
to read. If a child proves unable, the father, unless he
has some sufficient ground of excuse, might be subjected to a
moderate fine, to be worked out, if necessary, by his labor,
and the child might be put to school at his expense. Once in
every year the examination should be renewed, with a grad-
ually extending range of subjects, so as to make the universal
acquisition, and what is more, retention, of a certain mini-
mum of general knowledge, virtually compulsory. Beyond
that minimum, there should be voluntary examinations on
all subjects, at which all who come up to a certain standard
of proficiency might claim a certificate. To prevent the
State from exercising through these arrangements, an im-
proper influence over opinion, the knowledge required for
passing an examination (beyond the merely instrumental
parts of knowledge, such as languages and their use) should,
even in the higher class of examinations, be confined to
facts and positive science exclusively. The examinations on
religion, politics, or other disputed topics, shouLd not turn
on the truth or falsehood of opinions, but on the matter of
fact that such and such an opinion is held, on such grounds,
by such authors, or schools, or churches. Under this system,
the rising generation would be no worse off in regard to all
disputed truths, than they are at present; they would be
brought up either churchmen or dissenters as they now are,
the State merely taking care that they should be instructed
churchmen, or instructed dissenters. There would be noth-
ing to hinder them from being taught religion, if their
parents chose, at the same schools where they were taught
other things. All attempts by the State to bias the conclu-
sions of its citizens on disputed subjects, are evil; but it may
very properly offer to ascertain and certify that a person
possesses the knowledge requisite to make his conclusions,
on any given subject, worth attending to. A student of phi-
losophy would be the better for being able to stand an ex-
amination both in Locke and in Kant, whichever of the two
he takes up with, or even if with neither: and there is no
reasonable objection to examining an atheist in the evidences
of Christianity, provided he is not required to profess a be-
lief in them. The examinations, however, in the higher
branches of knowledge should, I conceive, be entirely volun-
tary. It would be giving too dangerous a power to govern-
ments, were they allowed to exclude any one from profes-
sions, even from the profession of teacher, for alleged
deficiency of qualifications: and I think, with Wilhelm von
Humboldt, that degrees, or other public certificates of scien-
tific or professional acquirements, should be given to all who
present themselves for examination, and stand the test; but
that such certificates should confer no advantage over com-
petitors, other than the weight which may be attached to
their testimony by public opinion.

It is not in the matter of education only that misplaced
notions of liberty prevent moral obligations on the part of
parents from being recognized, and legal obligations from
being imposed, where there are the strongest grounds for
the former always, and in many cases for the latter also.
The fact itself, of causing the existence of a human being,
is one of the most responsible actions in the range of human
life. To undertake this responsibility--to bestow a life
which may be either a curse or a blessing--unless the being
on whom it is to be bestowed will have at least the ordinary
chances of a desirable existence, is a crime against that
being. And in a country either over-peopled or threatened
with being so, to produce children, beyond a very small num-
ber, with the effect of reducing the reward of labor by their
competition, is a serious offence against all who live by the
remuneration of their labor. The laws which, in many
countries on the Continent, forbid marriage unless the parties
can show that they have the means of supporting a family,
do not exceed the legitimate powers of the State: and
whether such laws be expedient or not (a question mainly
dependent on local circumstances and feelings), they are
not objectionable as violations of liberty. Such laws are in-
terferences of the State to prohibit a mischievous act--an
act injurious to others, which ought to be a subject of repro-
bation, and social stigma, even when it is not deemed
expedient to superadd legal punishment. Yet the current
ideas of liberty, which bend so easily to real infringements
of the freedom of the individual, in things which concern
only himself, would repel the attempt to put any restraint
upon his inclinations when the consequence of their indul-
gence is a life, or lives, of wretchedness and depravity
to the offspring, with manifold evils to those sufficiently
within reach to be in any way affected by their actions.
When we compare the strange respect of mankind for lib-
erty, with their strange want of respect for it, we might
imagine that a man had an indispensable right to do harm
to others, and no right at all to please himself without
giving pain to any one.

I have reserved for the last place a large class of questions
respecting the limits of government interference, which,
though closely connected with the subject of this Essay, do
not, in strictness, belong to it. These are cases in which
the reasons against interference do not turn upon the princi-
ple of liberty: the question is not about restraining the
actions of individuals, but about helping them: it is asked
whether the government should do, or cause to be done,
something for their benefit, instead of leaving it to be done
by themselves, individually, or in voluntary combination.

The objections to government interference, when it is not
such as to involve infringement of liberty, may be of three

The first is, when the thing to be done is likely to be better
done by individuals than by the government. Speaking gen-
erally, there is no one so fit to conduct any business, or to
determine how or by whom it shall be conducted, as those
who are personally interested in it. This principle con-
demns the interferences, once so common, of the legislature,
or the officers of government, with the ordinary processes
of industry. But this part of the subject has been sufficiently
enlarged upon by political economists, and is not particularly
related to the principles of this Essay.

The second objection is more nearly allied to our subject.
In many cases, though individuals may not do the particular
thing so well, on the average, as the officers of government,
it is nevertheless desirable that it should be done by them,
rather than by the government, as a means to their own
mental education--a mode of strengthening their active
faculties, exercising their judgment, and giving them a
familiar knowledge of the subjects with which they are
thus left to deal. This is a principal, though not the sole,
recommendation of jury trial (in cases not political); of
free and popular local and municipal institutions; of the
conduct of industrial and philanthropic enterprises by vol-
untary associations. These are not questions of liberty, and
are connected with that subject only by remote tendencies;
but they are questions of development. It belongs to a dif-
ferent occasion from the present to dwell on these things
as parts of national education; as being, in truth, the peculiar
training of a citizen, the practical part of the political edu-
cation of a free people, taking them out of the narrow circle
of personal and family selfishness, and accustoming them
to the comprehension of joint interests, the management of
joint concerns--habituating them to act from public or semi-
public motives, and guide their conduct by aims which unite
instead of isolating them from one another. Without these
habits and powers, a free constitution can neither be worked
nor preserved, as is exemplified by the too-often transitory
nature of political freedom in countries where it does not
rest upon a sufficient basis of local liberties. The manage-
ment of purely local business by the localities, and of the
great enterprises of industry by the union of those who
voluntarily supply the pecuniary means, is further recom-
mended by all the advantages which have been set forth in
this Essay as belonging to individuality of development, and
diversity of modes of action. Government operations tend
to be everywhere alike. With individuals and voluntary as-
sociations, on the contrary, there are varied experiments,
and endless diversity of experience. What the State can
usefully do, is to make itself a central depository, and active
circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many
trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to bene-
fit by the experiments of others, instead of tolerating no ex-
periments but its own.

The third, and most cogent reason for restricting the
interference of government, is the great evil of adding un-
necessarily to its power. Every function superadded to those
already exercised by the government, causes its influence
over hopes and fears to be more widely diffused, and con-
verts, more and more, the active and ambitious part of the
public into hangers-on of the government, or of some party
which aims at becoming the government. If the roads, the
railways, the banks, the insurance offices, the great joint-stock
companies, the universities, and the public charities, were all
of them branches of the government; if, in addition, the
municipal corporations and local boards, with all that now
devolves on them, became departments of the central ad-
ministration; if the employes of all these different enter-
prises were appointed and paid by the government, and
looked to the government for every rise in life; not all the
freedom of the press and popular constitution of the legis-
lature would make this or any other country free otherwise
than in name. And the evil would be greater, the more
efficiently and scientifically the administrative machinery
was constructed--the more skilful the arrangements for ob-
taining the best qualified hands and heads with which to
work it. In England it has of late been proposed that all
the members of the civil service of government should be
selected by competitive examination, to obtain for those em-
ployments the most intelligent and instructed persons pro-
curable; and much has been said and written for and against
this proposal. One of the arguments most insisted on by its
opponents is that the occupation of a permanent official ser-
vant of the State does not hold out sufficient prospects of
emolument and importance to attract the highest talents,
which will always be able to find a more inviting career in
the professions, or in the service of companies and other
public bodies. One would not have been surprised if this
argument had been used by the friends of the proposition, as
an answer to its principal difficulty. Coming from the op-
ponents it is strange enough. What is urged as an objection
is the safety-valve of the proposed system. If indeed all the
high talent of the country could be drawn into the service of
the government, a proposal tending to bring about that result
might well inspire uneasiness. If every part of the business
of society which required organized concert, or large and
comprehensive views, were in the hands of the government,
and if government offices were universally filled by the ablest
men, all the enlarged culture and practised intelligence in the
country, except the purely speculative, would be concen-
trated in a numerous bureaucracy, to whom alone the rest
of the community would look for all things: the multitude
for direction and dictation in all they had to do; the able
and aspiring for personal advancement. To be admitted
into the ranks of this bureaucracy, and when admitted, to
rise therein, would be the sole objects of ambition. Under
this regime, not only is the outside public ill-qualified, for
want of practical experience, to criticize or check the mode
of operation of the bureaucracy, but even if the accidents
of despotic or the natural working of popular institutions oc-
casionally raise to the summit a ruler or rulers of reforming
inclinations, no reform can be effected which is contrary to
the interest of the bureaucracy. Such is the melancholy
condition of the Russian empire, as is shown in the accounts
of those who have had sufficient opportunity of observa-
tion. The Czar himself is powerless against the bureaucratic
body: he can send any one of them to Siberia, but he can-
not govern without them, or against their will. On every
decree of his they have a tacit veto, by merely refraining
from carrying it into effect. In countries of more advanced
civilization and of a more insurrectionary spirit the public, ac-
customed to expect everything to be done for them by the
State, or at least to do nothing for themselves without ask-
ing from the State not only leave to do it, but even how it
is to be done, naturally hold the State responsible for all
evil which befalls them, and when the evil exceeds their
amount of patience, they rise against the government and
make what is called a revolution; whereupon somebody else,
with or without legitimate authority from the nation, vaults
into the seat, issues his orders to the bureaucracy, and every-
thing goes on much as it did before; the bureaucracy being
unchanged, and nobody else being capable of taking their

A very different spectacle is exhibited among a people
accustomed to transact their own business. In France, a
large part of the people having been engaged in military
service, many of whom have held at least the rank of non-
commissioned officers, there are in every popular insurrection
several persons competent to take the lead, and improvise
some tolerable plan of action. What the French are in mil-
itary affairs, the Americans are in every kind of civil busi-
ness; let them be left without a government, every body of
Americans is able to improvise one, and to carry on that or
any other public business with a sufficient amount of intel-
ligence, order and decision. This is what every free people
ought to be: and a people capable of this is certain to be
free; it will never let itself be enslaved by any man or body
of men because these are able to seize and pull the reins
of the central administration. No bureaucracy can hope to
make such a people as this do or undergo anything that they
do not like. But where everything is done through the
bureaucracy, nothing to which the bureaucracy is really ad-
verse can be done at all. The constitution of such countries
is an organization of the experience and practical ability
of the nation, into a disciplined body for the purpose of gov-
erning the rest; and the more perfect that organization is
in itself, the more successful in drawing to itself and edu-
cating for itself the persons of greatest capacity from all
ranks of the community, the more complete is the bondage of
all, the members of the bureaucracy included. For the gov-
ernors are as much the slaves of their organization and dis-
cipline, as the governed are of the governors. A Chinese
mandarin is as much the tool and creature of a despotism
as the humblest cultivator. An individual Jesuit is to the
utmost degree of abasement the slave of his order though
the order itself exists for the collective power and impor-
tance of its members.

It is not, also, to be forgotten, that the absorption of all the
principal ability of the country into the governing body is
fatal, sooner or later, to the mental activity and progressive-
ness of the body itself. Banded together as they are--work-
ing a system which, like all systems, necessarily proceeds in
a great measure by fixed rules--the official body are under
the constant temptation of sinking into indolent routine, or,
if they now and then desert that mill-horse round, of rush-
ing into some half-examined crudity which has struck the
fancy of some leading member of the corps: and the sole
check to these closely allied, though seemingly opposite, ten-
dencies, the only stimulus which can keep the ability of the
body itself up to a high standard, is liability to the watchful
criticism of equal ability outside the body. It is indispensa-
ble, therefore, that the means should exist, independently of
the government, of forming such ability, and furnishing it
with the opportunities and experience necessary for a cor-
rect judgment of great practical affairs. If we would pos-
sess permanently a skilful and efficient body of functionaries
--above all, a body able to originate and willing to adopt
improvements; if we would not have our bureaucracy degen-
erate into a pedantocracy, this body must not engross all the
occupations which form and cultivate the faculties required
for the government of mankind.

To determine the point at which evils, so formidable to
human freedom and advancement begin, or rather at which
they begin to predominate over the benefits attending the
collective application of the force of society, under its recog-
nized chiefs, for the removal of the obstacles which stand
in the way of its well-being, to secure as much of the advan-
tages of centralized power and intelligence, as can be had
without turning into governmental channels too great a pro-
portion of the general activity, is one of the most difficult
and complicated questions in the art of government. It is, in
a great measure, a question of detail, in which many and
various considerations must be kept in view, and no abso-
lute rule can be laid down. But I believe that the practical
principle in which safety resides, the ideal to be kept in
view, the standard by which to test all arrangements in-
tended for overcoming the difficulty, may be conveyed in
these words: the greatest dissemination of power consistent
with efficiency; but the greatest possible centralization of
information, and diffusion of it from the centre. Thus, in
municipal administration, there would be, as in the New
England States, a very minute division among separate of-
ficers, chosen by the localities, of all business which is not
better left to the persons directly interested; but besides this,
there would be, in each department of local affairs, a central
superintendence, forming a branch of the general govern-
ment. The organ of this superintendence would concentrate,
as in a focus, the variety of information and experience de-
rived from the conduct of that branch of public business in
all the localities, from everything analogous which is done
in foreign countries, and from the general principles of
political science. This central organ should have a right
to know all that is done, and its special duty should be that
of making the knowledge acquired in one place available
for others. Emancipated from the petty prejudices and nar-
row views of a locality by its elevated position and compre-
hensive sphere of observation, its advice would naturally
carry much authority; but its actual power, as a permanent
institution, should, I conceive, be limited to compelling the
local officers to obey the laws laid down for their guidance.
In all things not provided for by general rules, those officers
should be left to their own judgment, under responsibility to
their constituents. For the violation of rules, they should be
responsible to law, and the rules themselves should be laid
down by the legislature; the central administrative authority
only watching over their execution, and if they were not
properly carried into effect, appealing, according to the nature
of the case, to the tribunal to enforce the law, or to the con-
stituencies to dismiss the functionaries who had not executed
it according to its spirit. Such, in its general conception, is
the central superintendence which the Poor Law Board is
intended to exercise over the administrators of the Poor
Rate throughout the country. Whatever powers the Board
exercises beyond this limit, were right and necessary in that
peculiar case, for the cure of rooted habits of mal-adminis-
tration in matters deeply affecting not the localities merely,
but the whole community; since no locality has a moral
right to make itself by mismanagement a nest of pauperism,
necessarily overflowing into other localities, and impairing
the moral and physical condition of the whole laboring com-
munity. The powers of administrative coercion and subordi-
nate legislation possessed by the Poor Law Board (but
which, owing to the state of opinion on the subject, are very
scantily exercised by them), though perfectly justifiable in a
case of a first-rate national interest, would be wholly out of
place in the superintendence of interests purely local. But a
central organ of information and instruction for all the locali-
ties, would be equally valuable in all departments of adminis-
tration. A government cannot have too much of the kind of
activity which does not impede, but aids and stimulates, indi-
vidual exertion and development. The mischief begins when,
instead of calling forth the activity and powers of individuals
and bodies, it substitutes its own activity for theirs; when,
instead of informing, advising, and upon occasion de-
nouncing, it makes them work in fetters or bids them stand
aside and does their work instead of them. The worth of a
State, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals com-
posing it; and a State which postpones the interests of their
mental expansion and elevation, to a little more of adminis-
trative skill or that semblance of it which practice gives, in
the details of business; a State, which dwarfs its men, in
order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands
even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no
great thing can really be accomplished; and that the perfec-
tion of machinery to which it has sacrificed everything, will
in the end avail it nothing, for want of the vital power which,
in order that the machine might work more smoothly, it has
preferred to banish.


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