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Class Eight: Protecting Liberty (Locke and Mill)
Discussion Day #1
   Next Thursday, March 11
   Affirmative or Negative:
        the death penalty a legitimate exercise of state
     “Is
   Format of debate: 2-3 minute statements, back and
    forth between AFF and NEG.
   Due: One-page paper to support argument        ,
    which should include themes and concepts discussed
    in class.
   Review of Locke:
     Why   do we enter social contract?
       Protect   rights/liberty (natural law)
     How   is the social contract formed?
       Between    people and people to form a government
     What   role do we play in government?
       Popular   sovereignty: consent of the governed
Locke and American Government

 Locke’s contribution: government exists to protect—not
            restrict—our rights and liberties.
    What’s the Problem?

Liberalism places
freedom as the “top” or
“guiding” value: but is it

               Order                   Equality
What’s the Problem?
   So what happens when there are broader interests of
    the state or the society (national security, improving
    societal welfare, decreasing crime and conflict, etc.)
    come into conflict with individual rights and liberties?
   Two approaches: don’t try to balance and choose one
    over the other (authoritarianism or anarchy), or
   Problem: how do you balance broad interests and goals
    with individual rights and liberties?
   JS Mill provides one answer.
JS Mill: On Liberty (1859)
   Mill argued that there are two kinds of tyrannies:
       1.) “Tyranny of government” (a monarch, dictator, or totalitarian
       2.) “Tyranny of the majority” (Where 51% of the population can
        enslave the other 49%).
   Mill believes that the “tyranny of the majority” is actually
    more dangerous, as it is more difficult to protect against.
   In a democracy, we have our “inalienable rights” protected,
    but those rights are what the majority says they are, and for
       In the traditional sense of the word, laws which denied women the
        right to vote, protected the practice of child labor, and denied
        racial minorities rights to public facilities were all “democratic.”
JS Mill: On Liberty (1859)
   For Mill, the “just” government must vigorously protect
    the rights of individuals and minorities from the “tyranny
    of the majority” through two methods:
     1.) Substantive: place certain rights and liberties ABOVE
      interference by democratic processes (Bill of Rights).
     2.) Procedural: limit the scope and powers of government to
      prevent the ability of both kinds of tyranny to persecute
      minorities and individuals.
    Ultimately, Mill’s arguments about the “just” state stems
    from his view of the individual as independent and
    Mill: Harm Principle
   The “harm principle” sets the burden of proof for infringing
    on individual rights and liberties on the state, which can
    only interfere with individual behavior when that behavior
    harms others.
       “Your rights end where mine begin.”
   Thus, one’s own behavior is off-limits, unless it interferes
    with others. “Morality” or “promoting virtue” are not
    adequate state interests, because conformity is the enemy
    of full individual realization.
       This view comes into play on a wide range of issues:
        legalization of drug use, euthanasia, abortion, seat-belt and
        helmet laws, etc.
Current Debates
about the Harm
Mill: Freedom of Speech & Assembly
   Why should we tolerate dissenting opinions?
     First, the harm principle protects freedom of speech and
     Second, Mill argues that society loses when it silences unpopular
         If those minority opinions are right, we lose the truth.
         Even if those minority opinions are wrong, we lose the ability more
          clearly understand our own opinions (“Allegory of the Cave”).
         Opposing viewpoints are also critical for change, and change is critical
          to survival.
         We argue our own infallibility by ignoring counter-arguments.
         Even statements in error have some aspect of truth.
         Unless truth is contested, it will be held as a prejudice, and eventually
          we will forget why we hold it as the “truth” in the first place (for Mill,
          this is the worst kind of evil).
    Closing Discussion
   Do we accept the harm
   If not, how do we decide
    when individual rights
    can/cannot be infringed
    for the greater goods of
    order and equality?
   What is tolerance? How
    tolerant should we be?

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