572: A Bizarre Story.

John Stuart Mill had the worst personal life of any libertarian philosopher, a competitive category for bad personal lives. Marriage in particular has a record of making libertarian philosophers behave discreditably — that is, in a way that brings discredit not just on their character but on their ideas.

Bertrand Russell famously divorced the first of his four wives after a bicycle trip: “suddenly, as I was riding along a country road, realized that I no longer loved Alys.” Thus reasoned the most rational man in England. Ayn Rand forced her husband to endure loud and lofty protestations that forgoing an affair with Nathaniel Branden would be a sin against objectivism. William Godwin, England’s first anarcho-libertarian, wrecked two marriages on his individualism: first to Mary Wollstonecraft, whom he set up in a separate apartment and communicated with by letter, and then to a harridan of no redeeming qualities apart from her ability to keep house whom he, in his solipsism, permitted to torment Mary’s children.

Even in this company, John Stuart Mill is on another plane. Under the influence of his wife, Harriet Taylor, he drove his youngest brother George to suicide. His doting sisters were banished from his life over the flimsiest imagined slights to his wife’s honor. He gave up his former friends and became a recluse, retiring to a cottage in Blackheath Park where he entertained virtually no one while Mrs. Mill lived. After her death, he made himself a national laughingstock by declaring in his Autobiography that his wife had been more poetic than Shelley and a greater thinker than himself, and that he had “acquired more from her teaching than from all other sources taken together” — phrases written not when Mill was a grieving widower but during Harriet’s lifetime, in drafts which she read and approved for publication evidently without embarrassment.

And that’s only what she did to him after they wed. Their marriage was preceded by twenty years of brazen and self-righteous infidelity. When Mill met Harriet she was married to a good-natured pharmacist of enlightened political opinions, if no great intelligence, named John Taylor. After three years of growing mutual obsession, they bullied him into giving Harriet her own household, where she lived with their three children and entertained Mill on weekends. No one, not even his family, was permitted to mention Harriet’s name in Mill’s presence, much less to allude to the scandal their conduct had raised. His oldest friend, John Arthur Roebuck, was the only one who ever dared; Mill never spoke to him again. The couple withdrew into their private ménage, reassuring each other that it was only society’s “baby morality” (her phrase) that cast shame on their exalted passion. A bizarre story — and until the 1950s, an unknown one.

(Helen Andrews, “Romance and Socialism in J.S. Mill,” American Affairs, Vol. I, No. 2, Summer 2017).

Anúncios
572: A Bizarre Story.

571: A Lack of Full Humanity.

Some forty years ago two comments on Mill used often to be cited, made by the two men who were then the most prominent figures in the English world of politics. Mr. Gladstone spoke of him (and, I think, also wrote of him) as the “saint of Rationalism.” Mr. Disraeli, whose attention was called to Mill by his somewhat unexpected apparition in later life in the House of Commons as member for Westminster, when asked after a session’s experience of the new member what he thought of him, replied with a shrug of the shoulders, “A political finishing governess.” […]

Mill had the educating mania, and it was largely inspired by that religious zeal for the improvement of mankind which formed part of his “saintship.” From his father he had early learnt to think that if only people were thoroughly well educated and freed from the dead hand of outworn institutions all would be well with the world. And greatly though his views eventually changed, this early way of looking at things left its stamp on him through life. His cult of education issued in a certain priggishness and preciseness, and a detestation of anything vague and not clearly communicable to those whom he would instruct and help. It is to this side of his intellectual character that we may set down his admiration for the French intellect and his extraordinary undervaluing of such German metaphysicians as Hegel and Fichte. To this again must be ascribed his intense joy in distinct classification which made Dumont’s redaction of Bentham (of which I shall speak later on) as inspiring and satisfying to him as Fichte and Hegel were almost physically distressing. It is the “finishing governess” element again which made his own unique and precocious early education for years the sole matter of interest to him, and led him afterwards to analyze its results with such painful care. Like a Jesuit confessor he regarded recreation only as a means to the accomplishment of his main purpose. In his autobiography he refers to frequent holidays as a boy of seven, eight, nine, and ten spent at the old baronial hall (Ford Abbey) rented by Mr. Bentham, as “an important circumstance in my education,” and as contributing “to nourish elevation of sentiment.” He saw the Pyrenees at the age of fourteen. This is interesting to him because it “gave a colour to my tastes through life.” The interest of nearly every event in his life is determined by its effect on his mind and character.

The priggishness and preciseness which called forth Disraeli’s saying were in part caused by those peculiarities of Mill’s own early education. He had the ways of one who learnt in the first instance from books and in the schoolroom rather than, as Charles Dickens did, from the vivid impressions made by actual life on a boy’s imagination. Mr. Bain tells us that to the end his hold on abstract principles was far closer than on the concrete on the facts of life and the world. His extraordinary precocity was a hot-house growth, and he never quite recovered the fulness of human nature. There was in Mill to the end a certain thinness of sympathy and a deficiency in geniality, though his sympathies were very intense in their own narrow groove. There was a lack of full humanity. He had little sense of the ludicrous. He did not enter into or understand the varieties of human character, and he was wanting in virility.

(Wilfrid Ward, Men and Matters. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914, pp. 146–148).

571: A Lack of Full Humanity.

538: The Problem with Censorship.

The problem with censorship, as John Stuart Mill pointed out a century and half ago, is that it makes it impossible for those who impose it to discover that they are wrong. The error persists, preventing the discussion that might produce a remedy, and ensuring that the problem will grow. Yet when truth cannot make itself known in words, it will make itself known in deeds.

(Roger Scruton, “Should He Have Spoken?,” The New Criterion, Vol. XXV, 2006, p. 22).

538: The Problem with Censorship.

97: A Violent End.

The ideal nation of rational Democrats, so far from exemplifying the glory of distinctions, would find its similitude in a great library consisting entirely of duplicates, digests, and popular epitomes of the works of John Stuart Mill.

I confess, therefore, to a joyful satisfaction in my conviction that a real Democracy, such as ours, in which the voice of every untaught ninny or petty knave is as potential as that of the wisest and most cultivated, is so contrary to nature and order that it is necessarily self-destructive. In America there are already signs of the rise of an aristocracy which promises to be more exclusive, and may, in the end, make itself more predominant than any of the aristocracies of Europe; and our own Democracy, being entirely without bridle, can scarcely fail to come to an early, and probably a violent end.

(Coventry Patmore, “Distinction,” The Eclectic Magazine, Vol. LII, 1890, p. 130).

97: A Violent End.

19: A Road Open.

I was very much surprised when Mill informed me that he had not read a line of Hegel, either in the original or in translation, and regarded the entire Hegelian philosophy as sterile and empty sophistry. I mentally confronted this with the opinion of the man at the Copenhagen University who knew the history of philosophy best, my teacher, Hans Bröchner, who knew, so to speak, nothing of contemporary English and French philosophy, and did not think them worth studying. I came to the conclusion that here was a task for one who understood the thinkers of the two directions, who did not mutually understand one another.

I thought that in philosophy, too, I knew what I wanted, and saw a road open in front of me.

(Georg Brandes, Reminiscences of My Childhood and Youth. New York: Duffield & Company, 1906, pp. 276–277).

19: A Road Open.