Leaving People to Themselves
1. In the fourth paragraph of the fifth chapter of "On Liberty" Mill says that "leaving people to themselves is always better, ceteris paribus, than controlling them". This striking pronouncement, as well as the last sentence of "On Liberty", highlights the difference between the cultural models of Mill and Skinner, who wants to impose a high degree of control over people. Like Nietzsche, Skinner thinks that the average person will not use social freedom well, and that controls designed by experts will produce better results.
Compare a salesman who is allowed to choose his own approach to selling and a salesman who has to follow a script created by an expert. Which approach do you think is better, for the salesman and for the client? Justify your answer to this question.
2. In the eighteenth paragraph of the fifth chapter of "On Liberty" Mill says that "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". He says this in an effort to dissuade his readers from asking the government to act on their behalf. Businesses often complain that vocational schools do not train people in exactly the way that the businesses need. So why do the businesses not train their skilled workers themselves?
3. In the twentieth paragraph of the fifth chapter of "On Liberty" Mill argues further for limited government, talking of "the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power". He says: "Every function superadded to those already exercised by the government, causes its influence over hopes and fears to be more widely diffused, and converts, 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". He adds: "And the evil would be greater, the more efficiently and scientifically the administrative machinery was constructed—the more skilful the arrangements for obtaining the best qualified hands and heads with which to work it." How does this thinking relate to the idea that the "liberal" political model is the appropriate vehicle for achieving government that is in the general interest?
4. Mill ends the final paragraph of chapter V of "On Liberty" with these words of warning to governments: "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, denouncing, 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 composing it; and a State which postpones the interests of their mental expansion and elevation, to a little more of administrative skill, or of 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 perfection 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." What assumptions about themselves, and about the people they control, are made by the people whom Mill is attacking in the above extract? What assumptions of Mill lead him to launch his attack?