"John Stuart Mill: Traditional and Revisionist Interpretations"

Gray, John N.
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First Pub. Date
Literature of Liberty. Vol. ii, no. 2, pp. 7-37. Arlington, VA: Institute for Humane Studies
Pub. Date
Gray, John N. (Jesus College, Oxford). Originally published Literature of Liberty, vol. ii, no. 2 April-June 1979, Cato Institute.
The text of this edition is copyright ©1979, The Institute for Humane Studies. Republished with permission of original copyright holders.
About this Book

The traditional interpretation pictures John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) as one of history's paradigmatic transitional thinkers. Situated uncertainly in a no-man's land between the rival intellectual traditions of nineteenth-century England, Mill in his writings displays no settled or coherent doctrine on social and political questions. In Mill's work, the received view contends, competing sympathies and commitments are the subject matter of an ultimately unsuccessful eclectic method. This alleged hodgepodge produces a brittle conceptual framework which quickly disintegrates under any sustained critical pressure. Thus, Mill's utilitarianism seems at odds with his values of self-development and individuality; his democratic loyalties are in a tug-of-war with his elitist dread of majority tyranny; and his allegiance to laissez-faire principles is compromised by his concessions toward the socialist currents of his day. Some exponents of this traditional view have gone so far as to claim to discern in Mill's writings an intellectual schizophrenia: the lineaments of "two Mills," each with a distinctive expression and a coherent message.... [From the text]