Mill and Paternalism

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Mill and Paternalism argues that many discussions of Mill's concept of liberty focus too narrowly on On Liberty, and fail accordingly to acknowledge that his treatment of related issues elsewhere may modify its leading doctrines. A contextual reading suggests that in the Principles of Political Economy, and in his writings on Ireland and India as well as on domestic issues like land reform, Mill proposed a substantially more interventionist idea of the state, often relying on a utilitarian-based concept of expediency, than On Liberty seemingly implies. Mill's sympathies for socialism after 1848 are related to this position, as are his Malthusianism and feminism, which are shown, in conjunction with Harriet Taylor's views, to be central to his later discussions of the family and marriage. Feminism, indeed, is show to provide the answer to the problem which most agitated Mill, overpopulation. These contexts are then reintroduced in order to reinterpret the "harm principle" at the heart of On Liberty, whose Malthusian context, once revealed, subverts most accounts of the text by offering a family-centred interpretation of financial obligation as central to its arguments. The tensions in Mill's liberalism between more liberty-oriented and more utilitarian perspectives, and between more liberty-centred and more egalitarian aims, are illuminated by a close scrutiny of the entire corpus of his works, as well as an assessment of the reception history of some key doctrines examined here. While Mill remained deeply hostile to dependency, he is shown to be considerably more "paternalist" than is usually supposed, and to have proposed a much more egalitarian and co-operative, but also meritocratic, and utopian ideal than is usually associated with him. The first work to give central emphasis to the pervasive influence of Mill's Malthusianism, Mill and Paternalism presents the most controversial re-interpretation of Mill in a generation. It portrays Mill as a considerably more complex figure than is suggested by his key position in the history of liberalism, in combining strong commitments to population control, popular education, and the leading role of intellectual elites with an abiding concern with both liberty and equality.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages255
ISBN (Print)978-0-521-76108-6
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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